Insert coin – Ready Player One

Filed in Science Fiction by on March 31, 2013 0 Comments

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

You know, the Eighties was the decade we almost got right. Hairstyles made sense, movies didn’t, people actually sang on records, KFC was still fried and TV seasons went the full 22 episodes. If it wasn’t for acid-washed stretch jeans, New Coke and the rise of the yuppie, the Eighties would have been perfect. Ready Player One is Ernest Cline’s attempt to right these wrongs.

So what’s Ready Player One about? It’s the 2040s and global society has slowly collapsed into a dystopian nightmare. In short, there’s no money, no jobs, an energy crisis, rampant climate change, people live in caravan trailers stacked 20 stories high, gangs and drugs are everywhere – it’s like an episode of The Wire sneaked up and took over Jabba’s Palace when Jabba wasn’t looking.

“For me, the idea of people escaping the harsh reality of real life by retreating into the bosom of the very technology which created that reality is very human.”

In Ready Player One, rampant corporations and an authoritarian state tussle over power, making reality so harsh and unpleasant that people spend most of their time as virtual avatars in online three-dimensional video games. The destination of choice is ‘OASIS’, an MMO (massively multiplayer online) game which has evolved into a benign ‘globally networked virtual reality’. Imagine World of Warcraft and Second Life hooked up and had a baby… Yeah, like anyone would be caught dead with Second Life.

James Halliday, the creator and owner of OASIS is both incredibly rich and obsessed with all things 1980s – TV, movies, music, video games, you name it. When he dies, he bequeaths OASIS to the first person who can solve a series of Eighties-era puzzles and clues. This is a big deal – ownership of OASIS would instantly make the owner a multi-billionaire. For many years ‘gunters’ (or those who try to solve the puzzles by obsessively studying every aspect of Eighties culture) fail to decipher even the first clue.

Finally the book’s protagonist, Wade (or ‘Parzival’ as his avatar is known as) cracks the initial clue, and the race is on. The fate of OASIS is quite literally at stake – Parzival and his friends must solve the riddle before an evil corporation can outmuscle them to the prize and suck the life out of it.

“Being human sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that makes life bearable.” (Ready Player One, p11). It’s funny, I was only thinking this just last week.

Call me crazy, but Cline’s nihilistic scenario actually makes Ready Player One one of those feel-good books which leave you all gooey inside. Hey, Parzival fights back against Corporate America with all the awesome power of 1980s culture – what’s not to like? There is something very Back to the Future about the perfect 1980s novel being based 60 years after the actual decade occurred. It’s an opportunity to erase those unfortunate fashion faux pas and run the simulation again – and this time build it better than it was before. Better…stronger… fast- no, wait, wrong decade.

Ready Player One gave me intense feelings of nostalgia, similar to those good times watching Gremlins, Lost Boys and Texas Chainsaw Ma Goonies. But it’s not just the movies. I’d often catch myself on a tangent after a mention of Family Ties, or Intellivision, or Greatest American Hero, Zaxxon… OMG – Star Blazers! The references are endless – the first five pages alone featured John Hughes, Atari, the Muppets and The Simpsons (yep, first episode, 1989).

A lot of kids owned their own interplanetary vehicles. School parking lots… were filled with UFOs, TIE fighters, old NASA space shuttles, Vipers from Battlestar Galactica, and other spaceship designs from every sci-fi movie and TV show you can think of’ (Ready Player One, p48)

Cline grew up in (and obviously loved) the Eighties, and it shows – Ready Player One captures the very elements which made this decade great. Juxtaposing these elements against his post-apocolyptic 2040s nightmare world is the perfect counterpoint to the ‘if it feels good, do it’ culture of the 1980s.

Ready Player OneAs mentioned earlier, Cline’s future is a very dangerous place, with crime, piles of rusty cars, engine blocks and  rubbish strewn everywhere. Parzival locks himself into an abandoned car just to access OASIS – this is the only way he can go to school, have fun, just relax. For me, the idea of people escaping the harsh reality of real life by retreating into the bosom of the very technology which created that reality is very human.

The feel of this future world is captured well in Ready Player One’s arresting front cover image of stacked trailers in a high-rise caravan park (now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d write). This image is what initially prompted me to buy the book, and just goes to show the power of good design. It’s a nice reminder to wannabe authors (like me) not to ignore the little things, and is a great example of when judging a book by its cover is the right thing to do – and I am so glad that I did. (Another example is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. But more on that another day.)

Unlike Robert J Sawyer’s www: Wake, which looked at the world wide web largely from a technical view of the web architecture itself (see my review here), Ready Player One focuses on the content – and creates an online world which is just good fun. Personally, I love how magic and tech (sci-fi and fantasy) co-exists in the online dimension.

It was Art3mis. She wore a suit of scaled gunmetal-blue armour that looked more sci-fi than fantasy. Twin blaster pistols were slung low on her hips in quick draw holsters, and there was a long, curved elvish sword in a scabbard across her back. She wore fingerless Road Warrior-style racing gloves and a pair of classic RayBan shades. Overall she seemed to be going for a sort of mid-‘80s post apocalyptic cyberpunk girl-next-door look. And it was working for me in a big way. In a word, hot. (Ready Player One, p87)”

For me, the back-story of OASIS’ creators James Halliday and Ogden Morrow (starting from humble beginnings to achieving undreamt-of levels of success and influence) is an obvious allusion to the lives of Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Apple’s Steve Jobs. But where both Gates and Jobs moved on from their roots, Halliday and Morrow follow more of a Gabe Newell career path – people who stuck to what made them successful in the first place.

Ready Player One has a wonderful premise and does a great job of achieving suspension of disbelief, but there are still a few grains of sand which can work their way down the back of your cossies. For example, the teenaged hero Parzival apparently had sufficient time to evaluate (in depth) repeated viewings of the totality of 1980s culture, movies, books, TV video games, comics, music. If only this were possible … sigh, believe me, I’ve tried. This may come across as sour grapes, but that’s probably because that’s what it is. If it wasn’t for the demands of needing to earn money and build a career, I so would have been ready to win the OASIS competition by the time I was … about 37.

But I’m just quibbling. Ready Player One = Genius.

Note: I have to admit as I read the book I compiled a list of long-forgotten obsessions just hoping that they would get a shout out – sadly, Cline neglected Leisure Suit Larry.

Super-special note: Be sure to check out Cline’s website. It truly rocks.

Author: Ernest Cline
Ready Player One

Ready Player One

Author:
Genre: Science Fiction
You know, the Eighties was the decade we almost got right. Hairstyles made sense, movies didn’t, people actually sang on records, KFC was still fried and TV seasons went the full 22 episodes. If it wasn’t for acid-washed stretch jeans, New Coke and the rise of the yuppie, the Eighties would have been perfect. Ready Player One is Ernest Cline’s attempt to right these wrongs. More info →

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About the Author ()

Nick Buchan is currently writing his first novel ‘Leopard Tree’, available 2015. “A burnt-out police detective becomes embroiled in a child murder investigation while on African safari. Will this case send Detective Duffy over the edge?” Follow ‘Leopard Tree’ online at www.leopardtreenovel.com or https://www.facebook.com/NickBuchanAuthor

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