Ready Player One Review
As you heard from AJ a few weeks back in episode 141 of the Panelcast, Ready Player One is the debut novel of Ernest Cline. At the time, I had not had a chance to read it for myself, so I was not able to contribute to the review that AJ gave it. Thanks in part to that glowing review, which if you haven’t heard yet, you should really go listen to, I picked up the book myself. I first heard about it a couple of years back, but knew nothing about it, and listening to AJ moved it to the top of my reading list. Let me just say that I have a tendency to devour books that pique my interest. I have been known to read 1000 pages in a single sitting. So, it should come as no surprise that less than 24 hours from the time I cracked open Ready Player One, I was finished with it and hungry for more. Before I get too deep into editorializing, let me dissect and break down this fantastic piece of fiction in as spoiler free a way as I can. I do want all of you to go out and read it for yourselves, after all.
One of the most important parts of a story is the setting. Personally, I am a sucker for a dystopian future. Possibly because I see it as the end result of the path we’re on. Possibly because I enjoy seeing the overwhelming drive to survive regardless of circumstance that makes up part of the human psyche. Regardless, it can be done well, it can be acceptably done, or it can be done in utterly wretched fashion. Cline did it well. The world he created, outside of the OASIS, the reality for his characters in Ready Player one, was fantastically well done. It was both a realistic possible future, and detailed enough to draw the reader in in such a fashion that it is easy to forget that the world outside of the pages you are immersed in is not the same as the one you are reading about. In stark contradiction to this dystopian reality, Cline also gives readers the OASIS. Granted, it wasn’t originally intended to be an escape from the reality of the world around them, but the flexibility and malleability of the virtual world of the OASIS has the effect of drawing in droves of people seeking a different reality. It is a whole other world within the reality that they inhabit every day. The dichotomy of these two worlds make for a perfect push and pull of realities within the story, and Cline does a wonderful job of making both of them feel entirely real.
The next thing about a story that I tend to fixate on is the characters that are driving it. Protagonist. Antagonist. Whether you can become invested in their stories and their journeys determines just how deeply you can be drawn into the story. Wade is one of those characters that each and every kid who went through their High School years seeking and searching for adventure, meaning, and something greater can easily identify with. You never had to be the class nerd, the class outcast, the class anything to identify with the things that Wade wants and feels, you simply had to have lived through adolescence. As a protagonist, he works wonderfully to draw you in. The enemy that he finds himself is greater than him and the things he has achieved. Great enough that it seems impossible to overcome. That is the epitome of every great quest. He isn’t hunting the Holy Grail or the Golden Fleece. He isn’t sailing the seas or fighting dragons. All the same, Wade embarks upon a great quest with goals of not just personal greatness, but in the hopes of preserving the world as everyone knows it. Grandiose? A bit for a high schooler, but all the same, the quest, the search, the challenge, is completely appropriate for our given protagonist and you can’t help but root for him and invest in his success.
There is, of course, the plot. And that one, I am not going to go into. I quite simply can’t any further than I already have without spoiling some portion of the adventure for you. That is something I profoundly do not want to do. I want you to join Wade on his adventure. I want you to worry and fret over whether or not he will succeed. Remember, not all quests end in success, and sometimes, the entire point of the adventure is to undertake the journey, regardless of whether or not you make it out unscathed.
Ernest Cline has delivered a work of fiction that speaks to everyone who was ever a teenager. It speaks to everyone who ever dreamed of something greater. It speaks loudly and clearly to everyone who grew up in or enjoyed the 1980s; the references and the geeking out over them is a huge bonus to the piece for those that know and encouragement to engage in a bit of nostalgia for those that don’t. Ready Player One is a fantastically done piece that draws you into the plight of it’s characters, surrounds you in the potential for a truly dystopian reality and the fantastic escape that is part of it, and all while hurling reference after reference to those wonderful games, cartoons, and films that made the 1980s so iconic to so many. In short, if you haven’t read it yet, get out there and get yourself a copy. If you have, join me in reading it again. Believe me, it’s worth it.
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