Monday, August 8, 2016

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)

I read this for my upcoming book club in September; I may have new insight after hearing others talk about the book.

There hasn't been a movie - oops, excuse me, I mean book, it's a book - like this since the great geek out movies of the 1980s (I don't need to list said movies, as they are all, each and every one, mentioned in the book; many times.  Many.  Times.).    Fat, be-zitted gamer saves the world and gets the girl.

Except, in Ready Player One ("Captain!  Spoilers ahead!) he doesn't really save the world (the girl part is right).  In fact, our overweight, zitty hero doesn't do anything meaningful in the book at all, other than win a video game.  Granted, the game comes with a billions-dollar grand prize, and the Willy Wonka-ish award of an entire company, the biggest in the world at that point in future, the company responsible for the virtual world of OASIS (read the blurb for more details; if you are reading this, you've most likely already read the book, and if you are reading this because you think you might want to read the book, do so, it's really fun, but I just spoiled the ending).  The playing and winning of the game is the whole plot of the book.  It's very exciting, as games and movies are supposed to be.  But it's not really about anything other than that.  Cline gives us hints about the world of the near future, and how shitty it is, and a few hints about how it maybe got this way, but you have to infer a whole lot.  The point is the game, and our hero Wade's "epic"struggles to win it.  There are other characters, who also seem like movie characters (a big reveal about the Secret history of one character is straight out of a movie).  Ernest Cline is a scriptwriter - and his script is showing.

It's a fun read, particularly (especially) if you were born and raised in the heart of the 1980s; it's a homage to that decade, particularly the early to mid 80s, the clothes, the hair, the music, the video games.  There were things mentioned in the book I had completely forgotten about (Buckeroo Banzai, anyone?).  I read this book in two sittings, beside a pool, in the 100 degree of a Palm Springs vacation, and it's the perfect book for that.  

Is it an intellectual read?  It's not stupid by any means.   Maybe Cline's video game movie ending that really doesn't solve a thing (the Wizard of Oz ending; at the end of of WOZ, Dororthy wakes up and the world she left is still the same; she's done nothing to save Toto, and Miss Gulch is still coming to take him away).  Maybe that's Cline's point, that in OASIS you can fight bad guys with giant robots and win, but real world problems are unsolvable - particularly the real world problems faced by our plucky hero in the dystopian near future.  The future is bleak.  

The wet dream of a gamer - and god knows, gamers and programmers are the kingpins of our society now, rolling in dough like Vanderbilts of old.  The whole book is the wet dream of a gamer though.  A fun wet dream.  Sort of a dream wrapped in a nightmare, if you think about it.

It was interesting reading this while the whole Pokemon Go phenomenon was happening.  Sort of surreal.

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mr. Cline, your script is showing.

I'm not taking a swipe at the book, although it is a fact that this was written by a screenwriter and another fact that the book is becoming a movie as I type this. Rather, I think the entire book read like a movie, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Many books, particularly books today, are written for folks who like movies. Several Harry Potters read like a movie. That does not detract from their enjoyability one bit.

Cline's book is incredibly enjoyable - in fact, it's a rollicking thrilling adventure. Children of the 80s especially will find much to love. If the entire book is about the search for series of easter eggs, the book itself is chockful of chocolate bunnies from the entire decade, including some things this raised-by-the-80s reader had (maybe thankfully?) forgot (Buckeroo Banzai anyone?). Cline can set scenes, but his characters have about as much depth as the each of The Goonies. His world building was also structurally weak; he had a great foundation going, but I thought spent far too much time imaging an online fantasy world (or rather myriad of worlds) without taking the trouble to create a believable world outside the virtual fantasy.

Read it - oh yes. But don't scratch at it very hard; the paint on these sets are still pretty fresh.

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