Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Ready Player One

Holy hype, Batman! I've been hearing nonstop praise for this sci-fi cult favorite for forever... but especially now that the movie news - touting Spielberg as director and the book's author as one of the head scriptwriters - is picking up, I figured it was time to give it a read. 

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, transports its readers to the dystopian future year of 2044, where the online Oasis gaming and virtual lifestyle system provides a more livable environment than the dark and dangerous world offline. Teenager Wade escapes his own poverty-stricken existence by refurbishing computers for extra food rations, and hides out in the back of an old car all day, competing against users across the world to access one of the fabled Keys of Oasis lore, in a grand quest set forth by its creator. When Wade gets closer than anyone has before to unearthing the secrets of the game, his already hazardous real world turns deadly... and it's only a matter of time before he'll has to face it head on.

Let me say this first: I loved this book. I loved the action, and the quirks of the online world, and the super awesome pop culture references that were made at basically every turn. I actually liked it so much I convinced my Dad to read it, too. He was slightly unnerved by the fact that he was able to recognize basically every '80s-loving reference made, but it certainly didn't hinder his ability to enjoy it as well.

If I had to pick one word to describe it, I'd probably say "escapism." Not only would it summarize the interactions Wade had with Oasis, but the novel itself was one big sprawling world to climb into, with rules pre-set and dialogue and characterizations straight out of works you already know. Beyond the absolutely exceptional world-building, it didn't push too many boundaries, but that was okay. It was sci fi and fun and pretty meta, which made some of its minor problems all the easier to ignore.

In terms of what those problems might entail, I just thought that the dystopian outer-world clashed uncomfortably with the richness of the inner-world which, yes, I get was a part of the point. But what I mean is that the world of the game was simply given more detail and ground than Wade's offline reality, when I feel like both required a lot of foundation to build the fantasy to a comprehensive level.

Additionally, yes, okay, Ath3na's character was a badass, but she was also a little trope-y... essentially kind of hard to understand as more than just a cardboard character, to the point where I've been mulling over the idea of dedicating a separate post to her characterization... one that would also include her female counterparts from Frank Herbert's Dune and James Dashner's The Maze Runner, as well as the movie adaptations of The Giver and Ender's Game. (If you can name who each of those would be, you probably have a fair idea of what my problem is with this character).

However, these small issues with world-building and characterization of the lead female character can't trump the sheer FUN of Ready Player One. It's a great cult read, with a huge fanbase, and the author has been promoting his latest novel, Armada, like crazy, so, why not give it a chance? You'll probably like it.

Final Verdict: All in all, a super fun nerdy romp through an innovative online world with pop culture Easter eggs for major '80s enthusiasts. Cyberpunk done fun!

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