Ready Player One

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

I love, love, LOVE when I’m reading a book that’s so awesome, I look for every opportunity I can to sneak in just one more paragraph before I have to go to work, or to bed, or whereever.

Ready Player One is such a book. I should mention, however, that I didn’t read the book, I listened to it on CD. After two ho-hum books, it was great to have a book that left me excited to make my daily commute. The audio book is read by Wil Weaton, who performed remarkably well. His reading was especially fun because he – the real Wil Weaton – is a minor character in the book.

The science fiction tale takes place in the 2040s, by which time humans have used up most of their cheap fuel, meaning that things like airplanes and cars are prohibitively expensive for most people. Online gaming has surged in popularity, with a game called The Oasis taking up the day for many disenchanted earthlings. The Oasis is kind of a glorified version of The Sims, if you can imagine actually being one of the avatars. The online world is so vast and so big, that many people go to school, work, and create long-term relationships with people they’ve never even met all online. And why not? The world sucks. The virtual schools are pristine, well-maintained “facilities,” so they’ve far superior to the crumbling, underfunded physical schools. And why stay in your own world when you can design your avatar to look like whatever you want – there’s no need to be fat, old, or handicapped online. Heck, you can even change your ethnicity or gender, if that’s your sort of thing. This leads to the weird situation where your best friend might be someone you’ve never actually met and don’t know what they really look like.

Many reviews online refer to the book as “nostalgia porm.” That’s true, it is. The designers of The Oasis grew up in the 1980s, and loved all the music, movies, TV show and – especially – the video games of that era. This led to other people complaining two things:

1) The book ties in all sorts of stuff from the 80s, often for no reason.

2) It’s unbelieveable that people in the 2040s would care that much about the 1980s and act as if there was no pop culture between then and “now.”

Both of these complaints are wrong.

For one thing, the book ties in all sorts of stuff from the videogame designers’ childhoods and young adulthoods. That’s because those guys made the game, and that’s the era they liked. The book isn’t slavish about the decade – Rush’s album 2112 features heavily in the story, and that’s from the 1970s. And there are several references to the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which both arrived about a decade after the 1980s were over. And, yes, it’s true, one character does fly around the Oasis in his x-wing fighter and his Delorean, but, again, the game was designed by people who loved the 80s, so they incorporated those items into the game.

Oh – and that brings up another point – just like with the Sims, users are free to wander around, go to school, chat with others players, whatever they like. But the main point of the game is to find a hidden treasure. This leads the characters on all sorts of quests, deciphering puzzles, and participating in interactive games. The clues are all based on pop culture from around the 1980s, so the users who are hardcore about finding the treasure have made it their aim to learn as much as they can about the 1980s. So, when one character says that he’s seen every episode of Family Ties, and another character admits to having War Games memorized, it’s not because they don’t think any thing worth their time has been created in the past 50 years, it’s because they are trying to put themselves in a better position to play and win the game.

Anyway, I loved this book. I often laughed out loud at the developments and even smiled with delight as certain events unfolded. I remember Entertainment Weekly once described the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Descent, part I” as “orgasmic Trekking.” Ready Player One is orgasmic geekdom. I easily grant this book an A on my list. In fact, as I told my wife this evening after listening to the final chapters in the book, Ready Player Onebelongs on my list of Top Ten Best Novel Ever. Go read it. Or listen to it.

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