08 October 2011

Ernest Cline: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Ready Player One" is compulsive fun, hooking on to the classic zero-to-hero trope and mashing it together with huge chunks of nerdish nostalgia. Although it's weighed down a little by chunks of exposition, most of this will only appeal more to anyone who has ever played classic video games. This is a book which will have especial resonance to anyone who was alive in the 80s. I've certainly played, or at least seen, large chunks of the games, books, and movies referenced.

Our 'zero' is Wade, an orphan who grew up near-penniless in a stacked "trailer park" raised almost entirely in the massive online world of OASIS. The story is told in retrospect by an older Wade, which does cause a strange dissonance between the subject of the tale and the voice it's told in. He says, for instance, that Art3mis writes with an "endearing, intelligent voice", which just sounded so out of place for the person he was meant to be, until I reminded myself this was a future Wade telling the tale.

Wade is likeable, older or younger, though there is a certain level of "just happens" to his tale. One of the most l33t gamers, Haich, just happens to be his best friend. Art3mis, his crush, writes one of the most popular blogs on the internet, but of course Wade started following it back before it was popular. [And both his close friends, despite all the talk of not knowing who people really are over the internet, are within a year or two of his own age, whatever other differences they might have]

The story wasn't without niggles for me. Some of the chunks of exposition bogged me down a little, but particularly (as with many near-future dystopias) I struggled to _believe_ this world. "Ready Player One"'s world hit the energy crisis hard, and reality became unpalatable to much of the world's population. This coincided with the release of OASIS, which is basically "Second Life" as a 3D experience with better graphics, which then became the Borg, absorbing the intellectual property of existing MMO's and fan-based interests until every classic SFF and 80s obsession became 'planets' within OASIS' environment, and "the whole world" decided they'd rather conduct their lives through the filter of this particular online experience.

While no doubt such a thing would be highly popular, it just doesn't parse with "the whole world" for me. OASIS is an extremely US-based experience (with a side-order of UK and Japanese anime shown in the US). No other cultures are shown to exist in OASIS. There is no hint of a Microsoft to OASIS' Apple (just a soulless corporate takeover merchant), or much sign of different languages except, again, (English-speaking) Japanese.

It also seems that even the Western creative world froze in the early 2000s in "Ready Player One". There's a ton of 80s and 90s references to games, books, movies, but nothing past that. As if the only thing the world has invented between now and forty years into the future, the only new cultural obsession, is OASIS.

[Also slightly annoying was that all the "recommended reading" of SF authors, and favourite film-makers, were male. Not even Tiptree, Norton or the fall-back of Le Guin made that little list.]

But on the whole these are niggles. The zero-to-hero story, and the fun of recognising games played (especially a certain text-based Adventure!) trumped all quibbles and kept me reading late into the night.

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1 comment:

  1. This one's on my (ridiculously long) reading list.

    With the no-new-pop-references quibble, I'm surprised he didn't use the classic STTNG* trope of two-references-the-audience-knows-followed-by-a-mystifying-third-one" e.g. "Beethoven, Stravinsky and Graxblard the Symphonitator"

    * Also used liberally by Russell T Davies, IIRC

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