You wouldn’t know it to look at the blog here, but I’ve been reading a LOT lately. I’m working on a few posts that will cover my experiences reading Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter books while I also watched the series Hannibal and then the films, but they’re not ready yet. However, after finishing the book Hannibal, I found myself not wanting to get into Hannibal Rising, but still needed something to read. A buddy had just recommended Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One from 2011 and I figured why not? I really enjoyed the book, but a few things stuck with me in different ways.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s a first person narrative from a young man named Wade who lives in a future where the world has gone to crap, but people can completely ignore it by logging into a massive virtual reality world called OASIS. Five years ago, the creator of OASIS, James Halliday, died leaving the world with a challenge to find three keys, go through three gates and ultimately end up with an Easter Egg that would not only transfer control of the company to the finder, but also Halliday’s own vast personal fortune.
Wade’s just a regular kid who lives in a literal stack of RVs who’s been searching for five years along with all the other gunters (egg hunters) in the world, but he’s the one who finds the first key, kicking off a series of events in OASIS as well as the real world that put him and his fellow gunters in some very real danger.
One of the reasons so many people love this book is because it’s jam-packed with references to classic 80s video games, movies, music and TV shows. See, Halliday (and obviously Cline as well) loved these things and wanted the world to do the same. Anything he mentioned became obsessed-over research material for the gunters and therefore makes old geeks like myself smile when we read about Rush’s 2112 or War Games. It’s a fun touch that I appreciate as I’m essentially the exact target audience (though my knowledge of and experience with pre-NES video game systems and games is almost non-existent). It’s also an impressive trick to pull off the same trick in the real world as in the book which is making 80s pop culture relevant again.
An element of this story that kind of bothered me, though, is that it basically takes the obsessive internet archetype and makes him the hero of the whole world. Wade’s a nice guy, but in a different set of circumstances, he’s the IT guy who asks why you said Bruce Lee fought Chuck Norris in Enter The Dragon when you meant to say Return Of The Dragon (hey, it IS fun dropping pop culture references). I started feeling like this book could give credence to people who obsess about trivialities in the real world. But then I realized that Wade and his fellow gunters were basically the same as pro athletes. They knew what they had to do to compete in this particular arena and did everything they could to get themselves there. In other words, they had an actual reason for their obsession (training, really) instead of the current equivalent who see themselves as a kind of pop culture police force that literally no one in existence wants or needs.
Okay, so with that little problem out of the way, I had a really damn good time with this book. Once the keys and gates start coming fast, I had trouble putting the book down. I liked the other characters Wade met along the way, though had no desire to listen to him and Aech talk to each other like teenage dudes. Even that got turned around in a clever way that re-contextualizes those convos to an extent.
I finished this book a few days back and am left with an interesting feeling. I want to get back to that world. I miss Wade and his friends. I haven’t felt this way in a while because I usually spend my time reading horror books. As much as I love Stephen King’s characters, I’m usually pretty wiped by the time I get to the end of one of his books and don’t want to return to whatever tortured world they belong to. In the case of Ready Player One, though, I find myself wanting to know what Wade and his pals are up to now or maybe even further down the road. There’s plenty to be mined there for sequels, but I also feel like this novel works perfectly well on his own.
I’m curious to check out Cline’s next book Armada, but am even more interested to see what Steven Spielberg does with this film. It sounds like it could be a real return to form, kind of a mix of the Amblin days with Minority Report. Plus, if there’s anyone who could wrangle writes to everything from old school Atari games to Ultraman, it’s him and his people. Here’s hoping it’s awesome! Now I’m going to watch Ultraman and try to dig up the Japanese Spider-Man show because apparently I’ve always wanted to get into tokusatsu shows and never realized it.