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Ready Player One: A Novel Paperback – June 5, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011: Ready Player One takes place in the not-so-distant future--the world has turned into a very bleak place, but luckily there is OASIS, a virtual reality world that is a vast online utopia. People can plug into OASIS to play, go to school, earn money, and even meet other people (or at least they can meet their avatars), and for protagonist Wade Watts it certainly beats passing the time in his grim, poverty-stricken real life. Along with millions of other world-wide citizens, Wade dreams of finding three keys left behind by James Halliday, the now-deceased creator of OASIS and the richest man to have ever lived. The keys are rumored to be hidden inside OASIS, and whoever finds them will inherit Halliday’s fortune. But Halliday has not made it easy. And there are real dangers in this virtual world. Stuffed to the gills with action, puzzles, nerdy romance, and 80s nostalgia, this high energy cyber-quest will make geeks everywhere feel like they were separated at birth from author Ernest Cline.--Chris SchluepGuest Reviewer: Daniel H. Wilson on Ready Player One by Earnest Cline
I dare you not to fall in love with Ready Player One. And I mean head over heels in love--the way you fall for someone who is smart, feisty, and who can effortlessly finish your favorite movie lines, music lyrics, or literature quotes before they come out of your mouth.
Ready Player One expertly mines a copious vein of 1980s pop culture, catapulting the reader on a light-speed adventure in an advanced but backward-looking future.
The story is set in a near-term future in which the new, new form of the Internet is a realistic virtual multi-verse called the OASIS. Most human interaction takes place via goggles and gloves in millions of unique worlds, including the boring (and free) “public education” world from which our teenage protagonist must escape.
Our unlikely hero is an overweight trailer park kid who goes by Wade Watts in real life, and “Parzival” to his best friends and mortal enemies--all of whom he interacts with virtually. Just like the Arthurian knight that is his namesake, young Wade is on a quest for an incredible treasure guarded by mythical creatures. Specifically, the creator of the OASIS and richest man on the planet, James Halliday, stipulated in his will that his fortune be given to the first person who can find an “Easter egg” hidden somewhere in the OASIS. The catch? Every devilishly complex clue on this treasure hunt is rooted in an intimate knowledge of 1980s pop culture.
This leaves the people of the future hilariously obsessed with every aspect of the 1980s. The setup is particularly brilliant, because Ernie Cline seems to have a laser-beam knowledge of (and warm, fuzzy love for) every pop song, arcade game, and giant robot produced in the last thirty years. Seriously, this is a guy who owns and regularly drives a 1982 DeLorean that has been mocked up to look exactly like the time-traveling car in Back to the Future, complete with a glowing flux capacitor.
But Ready Player One isn’t just a fanboy’s wet dream. Real villains are lurking, threatening our hero with death in their ruthless hunt for the treasure. Worse, these corporate baddies are posers with no love for the game – they have movie dialogue piped in via radio earpieces, use bots to cheat at arcade games like JOUST, and don’t hesitate to terrorize or murder people in the real world to achieve their aims inside the OASIS.
As the book climaxes, a mega-battle unfolds with sobering life-or-death stakes, yet soldiered entirely by exciting and downright fun pop-culture icons. The bad guys are piloting a ferocious Mechagodzilla. Our good guy has to leave his X-Wing fighter aboard his private flotilla so that he can pilot an authentic Ultraman recreation. And how do you not grin when someone dons a pair of virtual Chuck Taylor All Stars that bestow the power of flight?
Cline is fearless and he lets his imagination soar, yet this pop scenery could easily come off as so much fluff. Instead, Cline keeps the stakes high throughout, and the epic treasure hunt structure (complete with an evolving high-score list) keeps the action intense. The plot unfolds with constant acceleration, never slowing down or sagging in the middle, to create a thrilling ride with a fulfilling ending.
Best of all, the book captures the aura of the manifold worlds it depicts. If Ready Player One were a living room, it would be wood-panelled. If it were shoes, it would be high-tops. And if it were a song, well, it would have to be Eye of the Tiger.
I really, really loved it.
-- Daniel H. Wilson
Questions for Ernest Cline, Author of Ready Player One
Q) So it seems you’re a bit of a pop-culture buff. In your debut novel Ready Player One you incorporate literally hundreds of pop culture references, many of them in ways that are integral to the book’s plot. What’s the first thing you remember geeking out over?
A) Sesame Street and the Muppets. I thought Jim Henson ruled the universe. I even thought it was pretty cool that I shared my first name with a muppet. Until the first day of kindergarten, when I quickly learned that "Ernie" was not a cool name to have. That was about the time I segued into my next childhood obsession, Star Wars.
Q) Like the book’s hero, you possess a horrifyingly deep knowledge of a terrifyingly broad swathe of culture, ranging from John Hughes movies to super-obscure Japanese animation to 8-bit videogames to science-fiction and fantasy literature to role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. What the heck is wrong with you?! How do you have so much time on your hands?
A) Well, I’m raising a toddler now, so I don’t have as much time to geek out as I used to. I think I amassed a lot of that knowledge during my youth. Like most geeks, I was a sponge for all kinds of movies, TV shows, cartoons, and video games. Then as an adult, I worked at a long series of low paying tech support jobs that allowed me to surf the Internet all day, and I spent a lot of my cubicle time looking up obscure pop culture minutiae from my childhood while I waited for people to reboot their PCs. Of course, I spent most of my off hours geeking out, too. Luckily, all those hours can now be classified as "research" for my novel.
Q) You’re stranded on an island and you can only take one movie with you. What is it?
A) Easy! The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition. (Can I take all of the DVD Extras and Making of Documentaries, too?)
Q) You’re given free tickets and back stage passes to one concert (artist can be living or dead)- who is it and why?
A) Are we talking about time travel back to a specific concert in the past here? Because it would be pretty cool to stand on the roof of Apple Records and watch the Beatles jam up there. But my favorite rock band that’s still together is RUSH, and I just bought tickets to see them this June!
Q) Favorite book of all time.
Q) Best failed TV show pilot available on Youtube?
A) The unaired Batgirl pilot starring Yvonne Craig.
Q) Favorite episode of Cowboy Bebop?
A) “Ganymede Elegy.” Or maybe “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui.”
Q) What’s the first arcade game you ever played? What’s your favorite?
A) I was deflowered by Space Invaders. My all time favorite coin-op game was probably Black Tiger.
Q) Your idea of the perfect day...
A) Play Black Tiger. Then go see Big Trouble in Little China at the Alamo Drafthouse with Kurt Russell and John Carpenter doing a live Q&A afterwards. When I get home that night, I accidentally invent a cheap abundant clean energy source that saves human civilization. I celebrate by staying up late to watch old Ultraman episodes with my daughter (who loves Ultraman even more than I do).
Q) True or False. We hear you own a DeLorean and that you plan on tricking it out to be a time-travelling, Ghostbusting, Knight-Rider car.
A) False. I actually plan on tricking it out to be a time-traveling Ghostbusting Knight Riding Jet Car. It’s going to have both a Flux Capacitor and an Oscillation Overthruster in it, so that my Delorean can travel through time AND solid matter. My personalized plates are ECTO88, just like a DeLorean that appears in my book.
(I’m so glad that you asked this question, because now I can justify buying the car as a "promotional tool" for my book. Everyone reading this is a witness! My DeLorean is helping me promote my book! The fact that I’ve wanted one since I was ten years old is totally irrelevant!)
Q) Speaking of DeLoreans: biggest plot hole in the Back to The Future Films?
A) The Back to The Future Trilogy is perfect and contains no plot holes! Except for the plot hole inherent in nearly all time travel films: The planet Earth is moving through space at an immense speed at all times. So if you travel back in time, you are traveling to a time when the Earth was in a different location, and you and your time machine would appear somewhere out in deep space. For a time machine to be useful, it also needs to be able to teleport you to wherever the Earth was/is at your destination time.
Q) But there are two DeLoreans in 1885--why doesn’t Doc dig out the one he buried in a cave for Marty to find in 1955 and use the gasoline from it to get the other DeLorean up to 88mph?
A) Doc would have drained the gas tank before he stored a car for 80 years, so there wouldn’t have been any gas. And tampering with the DeLorean in the cave at all could conceivably create a universe-ending paradox, because it has to be in the cave for Marty to get back to 1885 in the first place. Totally not a plot hole!
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“The science-fiction writer John Scalzi has aptly referred to READY PLAYER ONE as a 'nerdgasm' [and] there can be no better one-word description of this ardent fantasy artifact about fantasy culture…But Mr. Cline is able to incorporate his favorite toys and games into a perfectly accessible narrative.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Triggers memories and emotions embedded in the psyche of a generation...[Cline crafts] a fresh and imaginative world from our old toy box, and finds significance in there among the collectibles.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A most excellent ride…the conceit is a smart one, and we happily root for [the heroes] on their quest…fully satisfying.” —Boston Globe
“Enchanting…Willy Wonka meets the Matrix. This novel undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now. [But] you don't have to be a geek to get it.” —USA Today
“An addictive read...part intergalactic scavenger hunt, part romance and all heart.” —CNN.com
“An action-packed, highly entertaining, nostalgic thrill ride through the past combined with the danger and excitement of a not-too-distant future. It marries the fantastical world of Harry Potter with a touch of Orson Scott Card—where fantasy is reality, geeks are cool, and the possibilities are endless.” —New York Journal of Books
“Ridiculously fun and large-hearted, and you don't have to remember the Reagan administration to love it…[Cline] takes a far-out premise and engages the reader instantly…You'll wish you could make it go on and on.” —NPR.org
“A delirious, crypto-nerd fantasia...Crammed with ’80s nostalgia and sugar-high prose, it's ridiculous and addictive and full of toy surprises.” —Village Voice
“A smart, funny thriller that both celebrates and critiques online culture...Layered with inside jokes and sly references.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A fun, funny and fabulously entertaining first novel…This novel's large dose of 1980s trivia is a delight…[but] even readers who need Google to identify Commodore 64 or Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde, will enjoy this memorabilian feast.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The grown-up's 'Harry Potter’…the mystery and fantasy in this novel weaves itself in the most delightful way, and the details that make up Mr. Cline's world are simply astounding. READY PLAYER ONE has it all.” —Huffington Post
“If you identify yourself as a nerd, geek, gamer, 1980s history buff, a fan of science, fantasy, or dystopian fiction, otaku, 1980s movie fan, romantic, someone who grew up in the 1980s, or a human with emotions—you will enjoy Ready Player One. If you identify with two or more of the above, it’s a guaranteed new favorite novel.” —Sacramento News & Review
“A modern-day fairy tale...so self-assured and enthralling that it’s hard to believe this is his first novel.” —Long Island Press
“Incredibly entertaining…Drawing on everything from "Back to the Future" to Roald Dahl to Neal Stephenson's groundbreaking "Snow Crash," Cline has made READY PLAYER ONE a geek fantasia, '80s culture memoir and commentary on the future of online behavior all at once.” —Austin American-Statesman
“An exhilerating, unpredictable trip...Part Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and part The Da Vinci Code with a healthy dose of Tron.” —Asbury Park Press
“READY PLAYER ONE is the ultimate lottery ticket.” —New York Daily News
“[Picture] the adventure comedy of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy meets South Park’s Imaginationland with a dash of Willy Wonka, except all of the cynicism has been replaced by sheer geeky love. Grade: A.” —AVClub.com
“A preposterously great read and a richly imagined science-fiction world that uses the very idea of nostalgia as a thematic jumping-off point...One of the true geek events of the year.” —HitFix.com
“This non-gamer loved every page of READY PLAYER ONE.” —Charlaine Harris, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series
“A treasure for anyone already nostalgic for the late 20th century. . . But it’s also a great read for anyone who likes a good book.” —Wired.com
“A gunshot of fun with a wicked sense of timing and a cast of characters that you're pumping your fist in the air with whenever they succeed. I haven't been this much on the edge of my seat for an ending in years.” —Chicago Reader
“A rollicking, surprise-laden, potboiling, thrilling adventure story…. I loved every sentence of this book.” —Mark Frauenfelder, BoingBoing
"A 'frakking' good read [featuring] incredible creative detail…I grinned at the sheer audacity of Cline's imagination.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“[A] fantastic page-turner….READY PLAYER ONE may be science fiction, but it's also written for people who have never picked up an SF novel in their lives…”
—Annalee Newitz, io9.com
“Intriguing and thrilling. Gamers and fans of '80s pop culture will find many familiar references throughout the story...Definitely an enjoyable read and one that can be appreciated by fans of many different genres.” —Examiner.com
“Gorgeously geeky, superbly entertaining, this really is a spectacularly successful debut.” —Daily Mail (UK)
“Fascinating and imaginative…It's non-stop action when gamers must navigate clever puzzles and outwit determined enemies in a virtual world in order to save a real one. Readers are in for a wild ride.” —Terry Brooks, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Shannara series
“I was blown away by this book…A book of ideas, a potboiler, a game-within-a-novel, a serious science-fiction epic, a comic pop culture mash-up–call this novel what you will, but READY PLAYER ONE will defy every label you try to put on it. Here, finally, is this generation’s Neuromancer.” —Will Lavender, New York Times bestselling author of Dominance
“I really, really loved READY PLAYER ONE…Cline expertly mines a copious vein of 1980s pop culture, catapulting the reader on a light-speed adventure in an advanced but backward-looking future.” —Daniel H. Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse
“A nerdgasm…imagine Dungeons and Dragons and an 80s video arcade made hot, sweet love, and their child was raised in Azeroth.” —John Scalzi, New York Times bestselling author of Old Man’s War
“Completely fricking awesome...This book pleased every geeky bone in my geeky body. I felt like it was written just for me.” —Patrick Rothfuss, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wise Man’s Fear
“An exuberantly realized, exciting, and sweet-natured cyber-quest. Cline’s imaginative and rollicking coming-of-age geek saga has a smash-hit vibe.” —Booklist (starred review)
“This adrenaline shot of uncut geekdom, a quest through a virtual world, is loaded with enough 1980s nostalgia to please even the most devoted John Hughes fans… sweet, self-deprecating Wade, whose universe is an odd mix of the real past and the virtual present, is the perfect lovable/unlikely hero.” —Publishers Weekly (Pick of the Week)
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Top Customer Reviews
So I would be the kind of person you’d expect to have a fondness for 80s culture, and might even be forgiven for going so far as ’'living too much in '82'. You wouldn’t expect a young person today to be that into the 80s - it might be cute if it was something the kid came to on his or her own, making it ‘their thing’ as it were, but forcing it on a kid would be kind of weird - creepy even.
Yet essentially that’s what’s going on in Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’ (classic video games. Get it? GET IT?!?). A dead billionaire who shared my 80s adolescent time frame, then went on to create the most amazing immersive online game ever (the OASIS) creates a contest before his death to find an ‘egg’ and win big money. In this future things are pretty dire and decaying, so many people, including young people like our protagonist, end up becoming ‘gunters’ (short for egghunters) and begin studying Halliday (the dead guy, also known as ‘Anorak’, which makes me think of ‘Twee Pop’, but that’s the 90s, wrong decade) and his life looking for clues. They do this for years (at least 5 years before any real progress is made).
They watch episodes of Family Ties. They listen to Rush’s 2112 (released 1976, but played to death by the home computer/D&D set as well as stoners in the 80s, as I recall). They study old Dungeons and Dragons Modules. They learn to play perfect games of Pac-Man, something very few people have managed to do (and fewer and fewer want to bother to learn to do every year). They read his ‘Anorak’s Almanac’ over and over.
They spend far more time in the 80s then I did (OK, I think it ends up being less then 10 years, but I spent a good part of the 80’s in the 60s and 70s), lured in by some dead old guy with a troubled past and a lot of unresolved issues from that time - troubled family, unrequited love.
They spend a huge chunk of their one life - and an especially crucial, formative chunk - stuck in a time that’s not their own. It’s maybe even a bit sick. Worse even than when I listened to the Who, Hendrix and the Beatles in my H.S. and college years - at least I was still spending some time in the present with my Commodore 64, Zork and Jumpman and all that.
Several times I would stop and wonder ‘is this part of the ‘dystopia’ factor? A future where kids are forced to re-enact ‘War Games’ word for word (like a rigid, joyless version of the fun call-and-response midnight showings of ‘Rocky Horror’ in the 80s - maybe the only 80s reference NOT mentioned in this book) in order to win a prize, a hope that’s the only thing keeping most of them going in their scummy, stacks-of-trailers-park world’? Later in the book Cline went on what I thought was a really well-executed dystopian sci-fi tangent when the protagonist ends up an ‘indentured employee’ to the book’s evil corporation/bad guy because of debt (boy is that a future that one can extrapolate from today when the young shoulder ludicrous student debt without much of a stretch). It’s both horrifying and pretty funny, so maybe the intention WAS for the kids’ slavery to the 80s to be likewise both horrifying and funny - only Cline knows for sure, and if I were him I wouldn’t tell anybody. Judging by reviews a lot of people loved and enjoyed the book as a happy fun time trip down memory lane, so why ruin it for them? I wouldn’t either.
Having said all that I didn’t hate the book. I have a weakness for some 80s nostalgia, as established at the outset, and the book was overall a fun time. I wanted Wade to get the power up and win the game and the girl (but why use the word 'reubenesque', a cliche of 90s personal ads, to describe her real-world self? You're a _writer_, man!). But like old episodes of Family Ties it’s not something I can imagine going back to. For the record, by the way, ‘Lucky Wander Boy’ by D.B. Weiss remains _the_ Classic. Video. Games. book. I should probably write more about it some time. It’s a book I found out about on slashdot (points!) that I still think about from time to time. It’s sitting on the floor in a stack of books next to my CD shelves now, actually. Maybe I’ll re-read it.
Look, I get it. I remember growing up in the 80s. I loved War Games. I loved Atari. Still do. But this book is everything that sucks about pop culture right now. It's Snow Crash (a far superior book by a far superior author), but with an 80s pop culture twist. Whoop de frickin do. Ask yourself this: if he didn't spend all that time going "Memba Joust? Oh, I LOVED Joust!" and "Memba Blade Runner? Memba ZORK?" would you have thought it was that good? Yeah, it's a fun, anti-corporate story about a kid taking on the system and blah blah blah we've seen this a hundred times before. In fact, I'm pretty sure Cline references at least a few of them.
If you want a big fat steaming pile of nostalgia dressed up as a "new" and "revolutionary" idea, this is a great book. If you want something actually new and interesting, this is not the book for you.
Finally, while the pacing was nice there were times where I wished Cline would embody a little more Tolkien and expand on some of the characters' travels and obstacles. There indeed never was much tension and never any doubt that things would resolve other than the way they did.
I give it a star for being enjoyable and a star for pacing but the lack of real tension and the lack of depth in terms of plot make this book a difficult one to fully endorse.