on January 9, 2012
This book illustrated the difference between reading as a reader and reading as an author. The crux of the problem: my inner geek fell in love with this book, while the objective side of my mind had a hard time overlooking the flaws. This is an attempt to tackle critique from both viewpoints. Keep that in mind if this review is a bit fractured.
My two sides didn't always war; they agreed on the characters, or rather, the lack thereof. I had difficulty forming a clear view of the characters early on. It took me some time to figure it out, dazzled as I was by the nostalgia rushing through my system: they are stereotypes. The reclusive loner. The so-punk-it-hurts snarky girl who helps the protagonist "level up" at relationships by accepting her despite her one small flaw. The jock. The honorable Japanese character. Cline misses a big chance to make up for this by turning his villains into generic "Bob Evils" of "Evilcorp" stand-in company IOI. We learn that the antagonist once designed video games, but see no hint of how he went from a benign game designer to a soulless murderer. Lost opportunity there.
Unfortunately, pacing presents a problem. Geek mind was pleased with a perceived brisk pace, and wanted to tear right through it. It's tough to give a book bad marks for pacing when that occurs, except Cline stops the show almost every time a pop culture reference comes along, offering a detailed explanation. This might have been meant to help the younger readers, but it murders the pace.
Then we have the plot: it spoke right to my geeky soul. From the book title itself (a reference to the arcade games of my youth) to the numerous 80s film and music references, the author knows his subject matter well and wears it like a badge of honor. He does an okay job of weaving it into the narrative, barring the examples above. I'm also a sucker for a well-done quest plot. This book delivers on the quest plot, big-time. The romance is bland. I never cared for the cardboard cutout that was Art3mis, so it just never connected. The EvilCorp subplot, unfortunately, hit ludicrous levels even for my geek brain, and would have cost it a star even from that point of view.
Writer Brain agrees on the quest plot, but the 80s references? Pandering. Pure and simple. They're not even well done, with some just being pure name drops, a wink and a nudge intended to make me like the book - it's an easy emotional note to play, using the reader's nostalgic emotions as a crutch for the characters' emotions, which are difficult to access. Then there are the ludicrous plot contrivances, especially Parzival's "grand plan". No spoilers here, but you'll know it when you see it and it may drive you mad. Cline clearly painted himself into a corner and found a very far-fetched way out of it using magic tools never-before-mentioned. This happens in other places in the book, like a teenager becoming interested in and thoroughly studying the culture from six decades previous, but this is particularly egregious.
So, we have the cons: relying too heavily on nostalgia, ridiculous plot contrivances, flat characters, and uneven pace. Then come the pros: a story that keeps you reading, a well-done quest plot, and - from my geeky perspective - feeding of the nostalgic urge. Thus, I recommend this book with several caveats. One, you absolutely must have a connection to the 80s. This must come across as a very hollow book without that connection. Two, if you have that connection, it should be a connection of the geekier stripe. Three, be prepared to turn your brain off and enjoy as it you would an action film. If you can do all of that, you might have a blast with it as I did, even while objectively knowing it's a bit iffy.
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.
The year is 2044 and the world is an unpleasant and grim place. Famine and poverty are rampant, and to escape the bleakness of real life most people choose to instead enter the world of OASIS.
Let me explain OASIS - this is a virtual world that is very elaborate and realistic,and it contains multiple planets and landscapes. It was created in main part by a man named James Halliday, the ultimate lonely computer geek, who was obsessed with the 1980's. Halliday died some time before the start of this story but had stated in his will that his vast fortune would go to the person who could find three magical keys hidden in OASIS, pass the portals associated with them, and then find the ultimate prize - the hidden egg. Over the years many people have searched for these magic keys and gates but none have prevailed. Those who search call themselves gunters. Also at play is a villainess corporation called IOI led by a man named Sorrento - who's agents searching for the egg are called Sixers.
The main protagonist of this story is an 18 year old named Wade Watts. Wade lives in abject poverty with his uncaring and cruel aunt. Because Wade's life is so grim, like so many others he spends almost all of his time in OASIS. It's where he goes to school and it's in OASIS where he meets his friends - avatars named Aech and Art3mis. Because everyone he meets via OASIS is an avatar, it's hard for anyone to distinguish friend from foe.
Because of his real world lack of money and help, Wade has few powers and weapons for his avatar (which he named Parzival, a takeoff of Percival the Knight which was already taken.) Even with this disadvantage, because of his intelligence and his obsession with anything Halliday or 80's related he is able to figure out how to find the first key - the copper one, and figures out how to pass that first gate. The race is on, with other gunters and the Sixers in hot pursuit. The future of OASIS is at risk because Sorrento intends to start charging money for the use of OASIS, which would keep so many offline and unable to access it. And this competition poses real life dangers for the players as well.
This is really a quest novel in the grand tradition of great fantasy literature. We have obstacles to overcome and evil-doers to defeat, and "magic," albeit computer generated, along the way.. There is plenty of action in this book and you will be turning the pages eagerly to read what happens next.
One of the (many) things that makes this book so wonderful are all the 80's references, especially to the video games and music and movies that so many of us fondly remember.
Note - don't worry if you weren't or aren't a big video game player or don't remember a lot about the 80's - if you are it might only add to your enjoyment of this novel but anyone can follow along. The story is both innovative and old-fashioned and it should appeal to anyone who loves to lose themselves inside a good novel.
At heart, this is a book for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider or a geek, and for those of us who love to read. I haven't fallen in love with a book like this in a long time and I hope it gets the recognition and readership that it deserves. As an added plus, and without giving away any spoilers, there is an interesting twist of sorts at the end, that poses an ethical dilemma for anyone wielding power over OASIS.
Highly recommended. Just a magical book with a cast of characters that you will really care about. Even though this takes place in the year 2044, the sense of nostalgia and the world created will take you back in time to the way you felt when you were 18. I promise.
Ready Player One is a geektastic novel that invokes a nostalgic feeling for 80s geek culture. The 80s was, in many ways, the birthplace of the modern geek culture. Between video games, amazing geek-centric movies, the popularity and damning of role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and the rise of progressive bands like Rush, much of what constitutes geek culture in the 2000s can trace its roots back to the 1980s. Author Ernest Cline obviously has a fondness for the time period and knows his stuff as he fills Ready Player One to the brim with pop cultural nods and firmly ties the 80s the entire plot of the novel.
It's 2044 and the world is in shambles. Poverty, war and other standard dystopian plot devices rule the day. Most of the population spends the majority of their time in a virtual world (think World of Warcraft on crack) called OASIS. OASIS started as a video game that grew in popularity to encompass multiple worlds and planets and systems that encompass virtually any geekdom you can think of (e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek, Blade Runner, steampunk, etc.). Pretty much anything and everything is done in OASIS now. Even schooling. Ernest Cline spends a good chunk of the early novel setting up OASIS and creates a fairly believable depiction of what life would be like if we increasingly spent time in the virtual world as opposed to the real one. Wade Watts is a typical teenager in 2044. He's poor and goes to school in OASIS, where he is stuck on his schools planet because everything in OASIS involves real world transactions. In an interesting nod to the current financial situations engulfing our current world, OASIS currency is valued higher than "real" money and for those who don't have money, you're as stuck in OASIS as you would be in the real world.
Before Ready Player One begins, James Halliday, the inventor of OASIS, has died and left his entire fortune (and OASIS) to whoever can solve three puzzles inside the virtual world. Since Halliday was an 80s-obsessed geek, all of the puzzles and riddles are tied into the 80s. Because his fortune is vast and involves control of the ever popular OASIS, everyone and their monkeys start trying to search for it. The bad guys in this book are IOI, an Activision-esqe company who wants to control OASIS so they can monetize everything and rule the world, so to speak. What follows is your typical hero quest, filled to the brim with more 80s pop culture nuggets than you'll probably even catch.
The biggest problem with Ready Player One is that Ernest Cline is more a screenwriter than a novelist. He falls into the pattern of "telling" rather than "showing" the action. So, for instance, when Wade has to traverse a D&D module recreated in OASIS, it reads more like a montage and is over before it even starts. Instead of building suspense and sharing one or two key pieces of the module, Wade just tells us what he did and then he's at the end of it. This happens a lot, in particular with action sequences. He name checks action movies and director (i.e. John Woo) in describing what he did...but it's over in less than a paragraph. There's no real thrill or excitement in the action. It reads more like a blueprint for a movie script (which it's been picked up for by the way) than it does a full-fledged novel at times.
That said, I had a hard time putting it down. It's a very entertaining novel that invokes memories and nostalgia for those who remember the 80s. It reads quickly and will make a fantastic movies when and if it eventually gets made. As a first novel, it's decent. But I really wish Cline would focus more on showing us instead of giving us a quick summary of what happened.
I'm fairly shocked at all the 5-star reviews on this. The book is a young adult book that is targeted to appeal to 30 and 40-somethings. As such, it falls short for both groups. The young adults can't relive all the 80's references, and the older people have to suffer through the low-level writing just to reminisce about Atari games and Broderick films.
The story had suspense and was interesting, but it is an unfinished product. There is way too much exposition. Pages and pages of this happened, then this happened, and this is why. Everything is just laid out matter-of-factly, and that's a very boring style. All the obstacles faced by the protagonist seemed contrived, and the solutions to them were too convenient; picture the scene in Independence Day where they hack into the Alien ship with a Mac - that's the kind of ridiculous non-thought-out way everything gets resolved. Many other things weren't well thought out - he paints the areas between major cities to be wastelands run by robbers and murderers, yet all the infrastructure is in great shape - the roads are fine, the internet works great, etc. Somehow 30 years from now Saturday Night Live is still on the air and Youtube is still the main portal for sharing videos. The protagonist fills up a "10 zettabyte" USB stick (yes, they're still using slow flash memory in the future!) with data that would probably fill less than a terrabyte, he uses the term for a billion terrabytes just to make it futuristic yet doesn't think through anything else, and this sort of carelessness ruined the book for me in many places.
Despite all this, I think it could make a decent movie, it reads like a script and I wasn't surprised to find out the author is a screenwriter. I just hope they get someone who actually knows technology to consult on it, otherwise like in the book, we'll have people who can use their online avatar intricately like it's their own body despite only interfacing with a powerglove and 3D glasses.
on September 27, 2011
Well I couldn't stop reading this one if I were a gunter heading for the third gate. I didn't want it to end but I couldn't stop reading it either.
Do you remember a time when microwaves or CD's didn't exist? Floppy disks were floppy? When walkmans were cool? How about when Pac-man and Joust were the (edited) and you had to go to your local 7-11 or game room to play them?? Remember when you had to put your quarters up on the screen to get the next game and everybody stood around watching? This book brought back memories of that time. I've read the bad reviews. "No character development" "Same old plot" "Good guys vs Bad guys." For me, this brought back some vivid memories of sitting at a table with my D&D group. To have the visual of entering, virtually, a Gygax dungeon, holy (edited)! *bowing* "We're not worthy." It's almost too much for words on a personal level. I think that would be at the top of my g33k bucket list! Zork, my first true love of video games, when you had to create the scenery. (I can see the house and tree in my head vividly) I never beat it back then (I was 12 when my father and step mother introduced me to it and I was always getting kicked outside) but I own all versions of the game to this day. Cyndi Lauper,( "what time, I mean old Cyndi or now Cyn.." "Anytime Cyndi" Time After Time. I'm totally playing that at my wedding! I had all this running through my head as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep after two LATE nights and lack of sleep. While being drowsy at work, all I wanted to do was pick up this book or call off sick so I could immerse myself in this tribute to a childhood (now not forgotten). I HOPE I did this book some justice. I felt it was the least I could do. BTW I found your book by a plug on Patrick Rothfuss' blog (herein refered to as Art3mis cuz he's witty like that:)
This is the first review I've ever written and am proud to do so! Thank you so much Mr. Cline! I feel forever in your debt
This one's for all the nerds, g33ks and phreaks out there! You know (who) you are ;;)
on April 22, 2015
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
The past is big business. As we age our memories get hazier, and to keep our pasts vivid we start to remember in extremes. Bad becomes terrible, good becomes great, and the things that we enjoyed simply because there was precious little else to enjoy become the Greatest Things Ever Made. The 80s are our 50s, and just as people nostalgic for the post-war period conveniently forget segregation, we too gloss over the more unpleasant aspects of our past. Ready Player One is a love letter to a past that never was: a 70s without Vietnam and an 80s without AIDS. The main character of binge-watches old episodes of Family Ties, unironically. Family Ties wasn't good, it was just what was on. This attitude pervades Ready Player One: the things from the past were great, end of story.
There are a number of themes that Cline touches on but fails to explore. The virtual world of OASIS is described as a distraction from a real world that is undergoing what seems to be irreversible social and economic decay. This hints at nostalgia being a retreat from the problems of the present into an idealized past, but Cline never builds on it. He never really asks us to consider what it means to live in the past while the present rots. There are precious few glimmers of indictment. James Halliday, the creator of OASIS, built up an immense fortune that is strongly implied to have the power to change the world for the better. Yet the book never asks us to consider the immense waste of Halliday's life, and how a lifetime spent indulging in the phantom pleasures of the past have left the world on the brink of disaster. There is an Aesop at the end (the real world is what matters), but behind all of this is the story of a man who amassed the greatest fortune in the world, a fortune that could have changed that world, and then just left it to whoever won his contest. Halliday seems to have never considered that the predatory, faceless mega-corporation that tried to seize control of his company while he was still alive might try to game his contest. Yet this is exactly what happens, and the only reason they don't win in the end is largely dumb luck.
Ready Player One is a young adult novel in its heart, marketed to geeks in their 30s. The story is very simple, and as other reviewers have noted, written in a largely expository style (my hypothesis is that it was a screenplay treatment fattened up to novel length). Sentences are sparce and unadorned, which made me think less of Heinlein and more that Cline was less interested in the craft of writing than he was in cramming in as many references as he could. In fact, the writing is dry and listless until it gets into the background of some nostalgia property. Then Cline comes alive, and it's much like being trapped in an elevator with a nerd who wants to share something with you. The impulse to share is noble, and at the heart of geekdom, but there are better and more subtle ways to go about it in a novel.
Cline indulges very little in rich description and imagery, but, to be honest, little is needed. Most of Cline's locations and objects are directly cribbed from other properties. When he describes our hero's ship as looking like the Firefly, he need tell us no more. The work has already been done for him, by more creative people. This over-reliance on reference even extends to his characters. When he describes the life and careers of James Halliday and Ogden Morrow, he is describing Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, right down to physical appearances. One of them is tall and gaunt, the other short and fat. One of them is sullen and asocial, the other gregarious and excitable. Halliday is described as having fired employees for trivial reasons, just like Jobs. It occurs to me that it is very easy to write a book when you don't have to come up with anything for yourself.
Cline's characters are not good. The main character--Wade Watts--is relatable enough, but he has little personality of his own. Much of his inner life is occupied with the contest and, by extension, James Halliday's life. This would have been rich territory to explore, the effect that immersing yourself in the life and loves of another person has on your own personality. But Cline has other objectives in mind, like making yet another 80s pop culture reference. Wade's love interest is your typical nerdy girl who thinks that she's hideously ugly. Near the end of the book we discover the horrible secret she was hiding from our hero: a port-wine stain birthmark on her face. Our hero can, of course, forgive this absolutely minor imperfection and accept her for the one-dimensional love interest that she is. The book flirts with the idea that she could be a man in real life, and honestly that would have been much more interesting. However, Cline is more interested in engineering a happy ending for his protagonist that exploring sticky questions of identity and and how we represent ourselves in virtual worlds. On that very subject, one of the book's "male" characters is eventually revealed to be not just a woman, and not just a woman of color, but a gay woman of color. It feels for all the world like Cline doing some last-minute box-checking after someone pointed out that his book was turning into just another installment in The Amazing Adventures of Straight White Men. Most egregious, however, are the Japanese characters Daito and Saito. Clearly, Cline is not up on Japanese culture, and instead of doing the research he fell back on the Big Book of National Stereotypes. They are polite, their avatars dress like samurai, they use the san honorific to excess, and they complain about people having no honor. Whereas the previous character felt like self-conscious box-checking, that at least has the virtue of effort. Cline's characterization of Daito and Saito is just lazy.
Cline doesn't leverage his myriad references effectively, and it starts to come off as "I did the research and now you're going to read about it," which is just as insufferable now as it was when Melville did it in Moby Dick. Halliday is said to have liked the bizarre Japanese TV version of Spider-Man called Supaidaman, and the infamous giant robot from that series factors heavily into the plot. Except that there's no way Halliday could have seen Supaidaman in the 70s and 80s because it never aired outside of Japan, even in one of those Sandy Frank butcher jobs. It wasn't widely known about until 2009, when Marvel put the episodes up on their website as a curiosity. Conveniently, this would have been about the time Cline was writing Ready Player One.
Similarly, when Cline gets into the infamous Dungeons & Dragons module The Tomb of Horrors, he doesn't seem to understand what the module was for. It was a meat-grinder for high-level characters, kind of a punishment matrix Gygax designed for obnoxious D&D players at conventions. It's not a fun module, nor is it meant to be. Cline's story would have been much better served by Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, an insane genre mash-up that has fantasy characters exploring a crashed alien spaceship and fighting fungus creatures with laser guns.
There are also some notable absences in the book's sea of references. This is a world where Star Wars seems to have been largely forgotten, comics only exist in obscure Japanese tokusatsu shows, and Disney's beloved animated properties seem to have been put into the Vault permanently. When given the choice, Cline opts for the obscure and paints a picture of Halliday as the only geek who grew up in the 70s and 80s for whom Star Wars was not a formative experience.
The virtual world of OASIS is not well realized. For example, to travel to any of the game's various worlds, people have to pay for fuel or for the privilege to use stargates. Going to other worlds is the only way to find quests and gain levels. This is a monetization scheme more predatory than even the most mercenary of modern free-to-play titles. If OASIS were a game in the real world it would be called "pay to win." The main character, for instance, is effectively imprisoned on his starting planet at level 1 because he doesn't have the money to travel anywhere else. In a world of widespread poverty and infrastructure decay, the implications of this are unexplored. It stands to reason that the vast majority of OASIS users are trapped on their starter worlds while the rest of the game is populated by those with the disposable income to spend on intangibles. In short, a virtual world full of virtual slums and virtual gated communities. Considering that "wasteland bandit" is a legitimate career option in the real world, it's hard to imagine OASIS as anything but a diversion for the dwindling numbers of the economically secure. When we are told that the mega-corporation scheming to take control of OASIS wants to institute a subscription fee and sell ad space in the game, we can't help but wonder if that might not be an improvement.
Likewise, the actual mechanics of OASIS are not fully thought out. Young people attend virtual schools, yet for some reason they are expected to walk to class as if they were physical students in a physical school. They have fixed lockers instead of school-specific character inventories. People use the Internet through virtual screens within OASIS, which seems like a needless level of abstraction. Cline gets that in a virtual world you can fly, or live on an asteroid, but he has no idea how that kind of technology would change how we interface with information. Nobody in the world seems to own a mobile device. We are expected to believe that every time someone wants to contact another person they have to put on their special gloves and special visor. Early in the book, the protagonist plays a game of Joust against another OASIS entity, and they do so by interacting with virtual arcade cabinets, manipulating simulated controls. In the world of Ready Player One, virtual reality is just a simulacrum of the real world. As dated as Neuromancer can feel, at least Gibson was trying to imagine how virtual reality would change the way we access information. For Cline it's no different from today, only you need much more inconvenient hardware.
Many of the worlds in OASIS have one city or one structure repeated hundreds or thousands of times. One planet looks exactly like the old Atari game Battlezone. Every world is a reference, and by the end of the book it all seems rather uncreative. Cline didn't create OASIS as a world, however, he created it as a nostalgia sandbox. Its role as a global communication network is secondary to its ability to allow you to drive a De Lorean decorated like the Ecto-1.
Watching the documentary "Atari: Game Over" provided some unintentional insights into the book, as Ernest Cline appears in the film (largely to promote his book). Cline owns a De Lorean, the car best known from the film Back to the Future. On his website he says that he has wanted to own a De Lorean since he was 10 years old. Here's the thing: the De Lorean was not a good car. It was slow, it was heavy, it was expensive and it was poorly made. The initial manufacturing run shipped with an alternator that couldn't adequately charge the battery during normal use, leaving drivers unexpectedly stranded. It was a shoddy vehicle that sank its company. But it was in that one movie, so it's cool. This exemplifies Cline's attitude while writing Ready Player One: nostalgia trumps all, and the narrative suffers for it.
on June 21, 2015
I can't remember the last time I read a book as "fun" as this one. I just enjoyed it. Granted, I'm probably the very key demograph the book was aimed at, but it worked. I get the reviews from others claiming the book did too much exposition and pandering and self-indulgence, true. Also true is that I didn't care. Take the book for what it is, fun. Good ol' nostalgic fun. It felt very much like an 80's movie adventure. I can't wait to see what Spielberg does with it for the screen. Hopefully its as faithful an adaptation as possible.
on July 4, 2015
I've been tempted through reading this whole book to rate it three stars to avoid being a contrarian or offending fellow nerd-friends who adored this book. But two stars is all I can justify.
An NPR entertainment critic once derided "Family Guy" for confusing REFERENCES with WIT. I still enjoy "Family Guy," but it's a fitting critique for this book.
I can't count how many nerd-culture references I personally resonated with throughout Cline's book. Comic books, 8-bit video games, THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (!)... I even caught a subtle reference to one of my all time favorite movies: "Sneakers" - SETEC ASTRONOMY. I also lost count of how many times Cline wrote that sentence: "Halliday's all time favorite" such and such...
The problem with this book is that it feels more like a social network nostalgia meme than a novel: CLICK 'LIKE' IF YOU REMEMBER THE MOVIE 'WARGAMES'! CLICK 'LIKE' IF YOU WATCHED SATURDAY MORNING CARTOONS IN THE 80s!
<INSERT DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS / MONTY PYTHON REFERENCE HERE>
I'm a nostalgic guy, and I enjoy remembering the things I loved as a kid. But listing those things is not enough to justify a 340 page novel, and Cline's prose, plot and character development are all too weak to carry the reference-density that does most of the talking here.
What this book COULD have been was a whimsical, futuristic "Willy Wonka" meets "Tron," but there were no compelling real-world, in-the-flesh stakes here. There weren't any realized characters, either. Only people DEFINED by their obsessions. And that's sort of the crux. People defined by their obsessions. Which makes for pretty uninteresting people. Moreover, not once did I feel concern that protagonist-Wade was ever in real trouble. Somehow he was smarter than everyone. He outplanned, outplayed and outthought everyone. Any supposed tension or twist felt manufactured and was resolved within a few pages.
I didn't hate this book, I was just bored and disappointed, interspersed with occasional chuckles from references that hit home. Ah, Macross...
No offense to my nerd-pals. I understand why you liked some of this. I just think it would have made a better TUMBLR than novel...
on December 29, 2013
I just finished listening to the Wil Wheaton narration of the book while driving. For starters, this book was just too long. Cline attempted to cram everything he loved about the 80's into the book and it was just too much. Also, the writing style was that of a YA novel (at best - the dialog was terrible) but his audience - those who will geek out on the 80's along with Cline - are 30 and 40 somethings. There were several glaring plot holes that were mere paragraphs apart. From a geek who has seen technologies come and go in a very short span, I'm surprised he wrote a novel set in the 2040's where people are still using youtube and USB drives.
I started out really enjoying the novel, and I thought I would have an opportunity to use my own 80's knowledge to solve some of the mysteries. But the answers are only revealed when the plot calls for a character to demonstrate their awesomeness. Also, since everything in the quest is a recreation of something from the 80's, why is Wade constantly amazed that Halliday has recreated some 80's thing (movie, building, game) to perfection? Of course he has, just like he did on the previous step in this quest. I honestly suspected that Cline had self published without benefit of an editor. As the novel wore on, it was very tempting to just stop, but I kept going, hoping for an ending that would be worth it. But by the end, I didn't care about any of the characters and just wanted it to be over.
I'll recommend Daniel Suarez's Daemon for my geek friends instead of RPO.
on June 21, 2015
I completely agree with all the criticism in these one star reviews. I loathed this book. I finished it, because the premise was fun and grand— but the book is terrible all the way through. I wanted to add some stuff people haven't remarked on—
In addition to the ceaseless listing of 80s references, endless exposition, poor use of premise, and terrible characters / character development, Cline is clearly terrified of writing scenes with conflict and complication. The majority of this book has its protagonist entirely by himself. Both in the real world and in OASIS. This is super boring. Why would any of the Egg challenges require him to interact with other people? Why would he be in a scene where characters have conflicting desires. This happens once in the whole book, and go figure it's with the main bad guy. Otherwise, when people disagree, they simply leave whatever chat room they're in. And it gets really absurd— any time there's a chance that characters may run into each other— say they're both going to reach the same gate at nearly the same time, Cline just makes it so that there are 512 copies of whatever house the gate is in, so that everyone can attempt the gate without any interruption, you know, from other characters. Think of Hunger Games (of which I'm not even a big fan), people band together for survival in the games, but we know that when they reach the end, only one can be the winner. There's constant tension throughout and everyone's motive and action is suspect.
It's not just that Cline is a poor writer, but every plot choice was also the wrong move. The story constantly stops for no reason. Part One ends with our character finally facing real life consequences (the stacks blowing up), now needing to remain incognito because the bad guys think he's dead, he moves to Columbus to start his journey— he literally says "I would abandon the real world altogether until I found the egg." Last line in the chapter. This is great. And then— PART TWO starts and it's literally 41 pages before we're back on track to find the egg.
It's almost like chapter to chapter Cline forgets what happened previously in his own book. In these 41 pages, is there some important subplot, critical to the solution of the egg that our hero must explore? No. Instead Part Two starts with our hero having forgotten about his need to remain "off the grid". Months have passed and he's now leveled up his avatar to the max, completely exposing the fact that he survived the stacks to his enemy. There's a painful 20 pages as he pines for Art3mis, which culminates with them going to a dance. A dance scene. I mean.. what happened to the Egg Hunt? Where have the stakes gone? The urgency? There's even a scene with him exercising in his apartment in this time. And an election's held in OASIS— does this bear any consequence to the story? Is it ever heard of again? Nope.
Even in Part Three, I thought that it was a really interesting choice to have him become an Indent. I was back on board with the book, but then even still, every single thing just goes according to plan. There's not a single problem for our hero while he's there. That's insane. A sequence so ripe with conflict, where our hero is finally at threat in the real world, but nothing goes wrong for him. That is bad writing. It's bad storytelling.
Why mention that the bus requires six armed guards if there's no scene of the bus being attacked? Why mention our hero buys a gun if he's not going to be attacked? If the gun's not going off, don't write it in. In fact, for such a dangerous distopia, our hero is never attacked or compromised in the real world. Ever.
I'm just so upset that this kind of storytelling passes in today's culture. A lot of people say, "Stop criticizing it like it's a movie— it's not, it's a book." But they don't know what they're talking about— it's a STORY. The craft of storytelling is universal no matter the medium. Just because it's a book doesn't mean we can't be critical how the story's told and what it contains. Novels don't give you license to poor storytelling. They give you license to unique perspectives and character internalization, which film must work much much harder to achieve. That's it. The storytelling still needs to be good.