Wow oh wow- such a fantastic read!
“Ready Player One ” (henceforth- for brevity’s sake- called RP1).
If this novel were a drink, it would be a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, an entirely fictional beverage- created by “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy ” author Douglas Adams- described as “similar to having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.” Yeah, that’s pretty close.
I this novel were an animal, it would be a dull brown bird disguised- possibly by a wizard- as a shape shifting chimera of dazzling, sparkling ferocity and beauty.
If you are reading this review, there is a good chance that you are already aware of the premise of RP1, so I’m not going to rehash it for you. If you are not aware of the premise and would like to be, there are plenty of places to turn to including Good Reads, Amazon, or the author’s own website. Anyway, the book is more fun if you know less about the premise.
From my perspective, what makes this book so enjoyable, is that it is a celebration (of sorts) of so many books, movies and (perhaps most important) video games that science fiction and fantasy fans of my generation consider to be touchstones. You see the author of RP1, Ernest Cline, himself is a FAN, and he has incorporated many elements of books, movies and games he loves into the novel, which is mostly set in a virtual reality woven from the cloth of science fiction/ fantasy and nerdy-geek culture of the mid-70’s to early 90’s.
Thus-thematically speaking- RP1 is a sentimental look back at my generation’s youth. Although, to be accurate, it does not represent everyone’s youth; it’s aimed at a specific audience. If science fiction, and fantasy, and Monty Python, and Star Wars were not your cup of tea growing up, you might find yourself scratching your head at references, jokes, and even some of the plot points. Cline’s universe is exclusive to the world of (dare I say it?) nerdy, male and (mostly) white post-baby boomers/ Gen X’ers. It may take a sentimental look back to the 80s, but not everyone’s experience of that time. Don’t expect any exploration of early rap music, Reagan Republicans, punk rock, or the LA Lakers vs. Boston Celtics. The cultural exploration in RP1 only charts a certain domain and sticks with a core audience.
Interestingly, the structure of the novel itself is sentimental. Cline may chose to call the reality (the non-virtual world) that he explores 2040, but for all intents and purposes it might as well be right now, the year 2012. The problems that the people in the book face are our own problems magnified and multiplied: a worldwide global recession, lack of jobs, weather extremes, and corporations trying to control the public policy. Like so many other successful novels (The Great Gatsby leaps to mind), the strength of the narrative perspective is that it looks back to our innocent youth (when I was in my teens). In some ways, then, RP1 is the story of a whole culture looking sentimentally back to a golden age that has been captured and preserved in a virtual world.
Besides the ideas and themes, the book is very well written, the characters (with the exception of some oddly stereotypical Japanese characters) are nicely defined and explored, and the plot and action swing along without a dull moment. It’s very well written and edited.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, and in particular to fans of science fiction and fantasy, whatever form you might like.