Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Book Review
My taste in books has changed quite a lot over the years. It’s been teen dystopians like The Hunger Games and Divergent, crime thrillers, and even a period of lighthearted chick-lit. But at the moment, as well as contemporary YA, one of my favourite genres is futuristic sci-fi – especially if it includes virtual reality elements. That’s why I couldn’t wait to read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.
Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline:
I’m going to start off by saying that this was SUCH a weird book for me. I don’t think I’ve read a book in a long time that’s made me so wishy-washy between “ugh, I hate this,” and “WOW this book is so good!!” It was a very weird reading experience, to say the least. I think for this review, it’ll be easier to split it into Pros and Cons. Hold on to your hats, because this is going to be a long one.
As I said, books that involve cool tech, futuristic elements and virtual reality are some of my favourites to read, so that was definitely the main reason I was intrigued by Ready Player One. Okay, one of the other main reasons I got the book was because I knew there was a film adaptation coming out, but I wouldn’t have bought it if I thought it sounded crap!
This is where I loved it: the tech was SO cool, and the world building was extreme. I can’t begin to imagine how much work goes into building a world as developed as the OASIS. When virtual worlds are built well, I absolutely love them, and that was definitely the case here.
The OASIS is made up of thousands of planets, all hosting their own unique worlds. There are worlds entirely for PvP combat, where avatars go to rack up experience points and reap the rewards. There are whole planets devoted to partying and having a good time. There’s also a world filled with schools, where people from all over the world actually go to study because real life schools are becoming too overcrowded.
There’s even a whole money system, and a cool thing where the virtual and real worlds collide and you can buy items in the OASIS to have them delivered to you in the real world. It’s little things like that that take world building to the next level, and I love it.
I really enjoyed the whole concept of the story: it’s essentially an insanely large-scale treasure hunt set up by the game’s founder before he died. The game pits everyone against each other to find precious keys that will guide their seekers to the founder’s huge fortune. Players are required to find 3 keys, and the final key will allow one winner to inherit billions. The only catch: the keys are almost impossible to find, as they could be hidden anywhere in the entire OASIS, and require passing a series of difficult trials to actually possess them.
When the book got going, I couldn’t stop reading. I actually have to give a lot of credit to Ready Player One for getting me out of what feels like my biggest reading slump ever. I couldn’t put it down! There were endless twists and turns that I mostly didn’t see coming, including shocking character deaths that I didn’t expect. If you want to be hooked into a story that doesn’t let you put the book down, I’d say you shouldn’t definitely give this a try.
Oookay. So as much as I loved Ready Player One for its imagination and story, there were so many things that made me wonder if I’d actually like this book. Considering I was so hooked towards the end, it’s very weird to think about how much I disliked it at the beginning.
The book reads to me like the author had a ton of fantasies about living inside ’80s games and films, because it’s packed with endless ’80s pop culture references. I’m not exaggerating: there’s literally a bit where 2 characters are arguing about some random thing in a film I’ve never seen for FOUR PAGES, and I skipped them before I gauged my eyes out. I understand that people who were teenagers in that era might like it. I get that. But what I don’t get is WHY it was necessary to include it. These pointless discussions did absolutely nothing to add to the plot, so why were they there?!
To add to this, I felt that there was SO much world building being thrown at me in overwhelmingly massive chunks that I couldn’t keep up. There would something be an entire chapter of solid description, and the only reason I didn’t skip past some of it was because I didn’t want to miss anything actually important. I bet there’s so much of it that didn’t have to be there and the story would still be the same without it, but like the ‘80s references, they were all shoehorned in anyway. It took so much of the enjoyment out of the beginning of the book, which is usually the bit that should suck you in. First impressions are pretty important, and all of this overly detailed description really didn’t contribute positively to that.
The final thing that almost had me shaking my head was the way that everything was just so convenient. Wade needs to travel somewhere that costs a bomb in OASIS currency? His rich friend offers it to him! Wade needs to beat a game from the ‘80s that most people have barely heard of? Ah, luckily, Wade spent 5458 hours playing it last month, so he’s a pro! He needs to pass a challenge where he must perfectly perform every single line of dialogue AND exposition from a film in order to proceed? Ah, good job it happens to be one of his favourite films, because Wade has the skill (and some kind of unexplained superhuman memory) that he’s able to do that flawlessly!
I hate it when things are just too convenient in order for the plot to run smoothly, because it makes me roll my eyes and wonder just how much thought went into developing the plot. Cline seems incredible at developing entire worlds, but when it comes to developing a plot that isn’t eye-rollingly predictable, that’s where his skills seem to lack.
Now do you see what I mean when I say that this was a weird book for me? 😀
Summary / TL;DR
On the one hand, there are so many things that annoyed me about Ready Player One. But on the other hand, I loved the premise and the ideas, loved how well the world was built (despite so much information being chucked at us in one go), and I couldn’t put the book down.
When a book is good enough to pull me out of a reading slump so big that no other book could do that, it must have had some sort of positive effect.
To summarise, I can definitely say that although Ready Player One won’t be making my favourites list, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I would recommend it to those who like a geeky read full of world building, virtual reality techy coolness, and plenty of (often very niche) pop culture references.
Click the links below to buy a copy of Ready Player One* or read about it on Goodreads:
*Note: Affiliate links used – click here for details. 🙂