Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Fiction Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a wonderful, unique novel that is so good that it swept quickly through our family, read by me, then my 17-year old son, and then my husband (who couldn’t stand to listen to the two of us rave about it anymore!).  We all loved its story and characters, its one-of-a-kind setting, its mystery and suspense, and especially its sense of fun!

Seventeen-year old Wade has a pretty dismal life in 2044.  His parents are dead, he is under the care of an aunt who only wants his government issued food coupons, and he lives in a “stack,” a vertical stack of 22 small trailers in a trailer park of over 500 stacks, on the edge of Oklahoma City.  But, like everyone else in 2044, Wade also has the OASIS.

The OASIS is an intricate, sprawling world of virtual reality where most of humanity now spends their time – going to school, shopping, meeting with friends, and working, all without ever leaving their laptops.  Wade attends a virtual high school, finishing his senior year, but his real passion, along with millions of other people, is searching for James Halliday’s Easter Egg in the biggest online game ever created.

James Halliday was a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs type guy – a geek who ended up a multi-millionaire thanks to his computer skills.  When he died, his will announced that he would leave his entire fortune, including the company that manages OASIS, to whomever was the first person to find the hidden egg in OASIS, somewhere among tens of thousands of online worlds, by solving puzzles and clearing three gates.  Basically, it is Willy Wonka and the Virtual Reality Factory!  Much of the world joins the search online, including obsessed zealots who become known as Gunters, like Wade.  Gunters all know that Halliday was obsessed with the 80’s, when he came of age, so they spend all of their time immersed in 80’s pop culture, hoping to find the elusive clues left by Halliday.

Five years later, even the best Gunters have failed to find the first clue in the puzzle.  Then one day, after school, Wade finds it.  He is the first person in the entire world to solve the first puzzle and pass through the first gate, and as soon as he does, his avatar becomes instantly famous, as the world watches him (and follows him) in hopes of having a shot at the prize for themselves.  Wade and his few close friends – whom he has never met in person – are left to fend off their competitors (including an evil corporation that wants to control OASIS) while trying to race to the finish line.

Trying to explain the plot this way makes it sound very complicated – and I suppose it is somewhat complex – but mostly it is a whole lot of fun!  The 80’s pop culture references sprinkled throughout the book – old movies, music, TV shows, and of course, video games – add a unique element of nostalgia and whimsy to this novel.  But you don’t have to know a single thing about video or computer games to enjoy this book because at its heart, it is simply a great, suspenseful story with likable characters to cheer for (and evil ones to root against) that happens to be set mostly in a virtual world.

(And in the coolest book twist EVER, author Ernest Cline has hidden an Easter Egg in both the hardcover and paperback editions of Ready Player One.  The clue leads to a website with a video game to play, with 3 stages to the hunt, just like Wade completed.  The prize?  A 1981 DeLorean, complete with flux capacitor just like in the classic 80's movie, Back to the Future!)

374 pages, Crown Publishers

NOTE: Although I have heard great things about this novel since its release in 2011, what finally prompted me to request it from the library was its inclusion as one of the Summer Book Club choices for The Readers, one of my favorite book podcasts (or book-based banter as these two Brits call it).  Unfortunately, their planned interview with the author fell through (though they hope to still do it sometime in the future), but they did spend some time discussing Ready Player One on this summer podcast.  Now that we have all finished the book, we can listen to the discussion!


  1. Wow! Thanks for this great review. I've often thought about reading this and I do have it on my TBR list. But I haven't gotten around to it. Now I think I will try to fit it in this year. It sounds great!

  2. OK, this book sounds cool. On the list it goes. Thanks!