Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Suicide Reviews: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

 Ready Player One 

Synopsis: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within the world's digital confines - puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. 

But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win - and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

Date Published: November 16, 2011
Published By: Broadway Books
Number of Pages: 372
Rating: 4/5

Ready Player One is definitely one of the most hyped sci-fi novels to come out in the last few years. People have been raving about it, Steven Spielberg's turning it into a movie - it'll be getting the full Martian treatment.

The book is oodles of fun. Chock-full of '80s pop culture references that runs the gamut of film, books, TV, and video games, Ready Player One is every geek's dream. Not surprising seeing as Ernest Cline is a self-described professional nerd. People who grew up in the '80s will especially appreciate all of the nods to the decade. Being a '90s girl myself, some of the references went straight over my head but I recognized enough of them to still enjoy the book.

The plot is pretty straightforward - Wade must scour the OASIS for clues so he can find the Easter Egg hidden by the platform's creator. The first person to find the Egg will inherit the late genius's massive fortune. It's a prize everyone wants and a prize some are willing to kill for. Along the way, we meet Wade's friends, enemies, and obligatory Love Interest. 

The world-building in Ready Player One is spectacular. It must have been a challenge to have to build not one but two worlds (the real one and the virtual one) and have them meld together so seamlessly. The real world is a frightening dystopia where unemployment is at an all-time high, most people live in dismal poverty, and food is scarce. This hopeless world is why so many people retreat into the OASIS. The OASIS is an expansive virtual paradise with endless worlds to explore, many based on video games, movies, or works of literature. People don't just play in the OASIS - it's also where many people work, go to school, and socialize. To many people, including Wade, OASIS is not just an escape from reality - it's a better reality. 

Like any video game, the OASIS has it's own rules and laws. Characters can level up by completing quests, you need credits to teleport to other worlds, and if your avatar is killed in the OASIS, you have to start all over again with a new one. I liked that it wasn't just a virtual world where anything goes - there are restrictions in OASIS just like in the real world. Still, I must admit that having access to the OASIS would be pretty cool. Ernest Cline made it so believable that I'm convinced someone will develop something like it someday - possibly sooner than we think. 

A couple of complaints: sometimes reading Ready Player One can feel like the literary equivalent of watching someone else play a video game. For anyone who has ever had to sit and watch a significant other do this, then you know it's not exactly fun. Thankfully, I found these moments were few and far between. 

But I suppose my biggest issue is with the romance. Wade's love interest is a girl called Art3mis who blogs about her own search for the Egg. He's totally obsessed with her and has a crush on her before he even meets her, online or in real life. They first meet in OASIS through their avatars - which are lifelike but can be programmed to look like however the person wants them to look. Wade thinks Art3mis's avatar is gorgeous, yet she warns him that she looks nothing like it. He eventually discovers what she really looks like and, despite a flaw that she is ashamed of, thinks she is still beautiful. I think this is supposed to show the reader that Personality triumphs over Looks. Huzzah! 

I. HATE. THIS. TROPE. First, it's bad enough that Art3mis's character veers dangerously into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory. (She just happens to like everything that Wade likes? WHAT AN AMAZING COINCIDENCE!) But she's also given a flaw that Wade is supposed to bravely overlook to prove that he's a Good Guy and doesn't care how she looks? The flaw itself is so inconsequential that it shouldn't matter either way. But it matters to Art3mis because apparently you can't have an awesome, kick-ass smart female character without making her insecure about her looks. I call bullshit on this trope. I'm just so sick of it. And if you really want to prove that personality matters more to your male character than looks, try revealing that his love interest is actually a 300-pound amputee or something. Really push the boundaries. 

Okay, rant over. 

I really did enjoy this book. It's a fast-paced read with tons of geeky references. What's not to love? I'll be interested to see what the film adaptation will be like. 

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