Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


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The book's description from the publisher's website:

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.  

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.
Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?
Are you ready, indeed?! Because it's going to be the most fun roller-coaster ride you'll have in a while. In some cases, when deciding whether to read a book or not, I let the ratings guide me even though the parts in a synopsis may disturb me. Ready Player One has gotten fantastic ratings and I just had to see for myself, despite my general indifference (in the least)/ dislike (at the most) of pop culture and the 80s. Clearly, I did like it a lot. To put it simply (and hopefully, in the spirit of the 80s pop culture), Ready Player One is awesome.

This book is straight out science fiction. Even though this particular genre used to be my favorite one in my high school years, I have since turned my attention to other books and after having read Ready Player One, I honestly cannot tell you why I abandoned science-fiction. Ernest Cline did gives us a book that is entertaining, engages your imagination but that also forces you to face the reality that one day might very well be. Unlike fantasy which deals with purely imaginary worlds and/or creatures, Ready Player One takes us to a very bleak future, where people have given up and instead of trying to do something, anything to preserve the quickly vanishing good parts of the real world they lived in, they decided to turn to virtual reality, to living in made up worlds, where they can be anything they want to be. Anything but themselves. I must say, I did find it really depressing at times. And, when you really think about it, really scary. Because unlike other dystopian novels, where catastrophes happen to humans, who don't give up and don't go out without fighting, Ready Player One has humanity receding from the world and hiding their heads in the sand. To me, there's nothing more depressing than my own species willing to just give it all up. For the sake of ultimate escapism; escaping from bad reality around them, but really escaping from themselves. 
Anyway, a little bit of a rant there, but that's the beauty of Cline's writing. On the surface it's an entertaining, fast-paced, science-fiction bit, with the nostalgia for the 80s permeating the pages. But if you know how to read between the pages and to dig a little deeper, there's existentialism of the first order there, the one that's probably plaguing most of the humanity right now. Of course, there's never one, good answer. But Ready Player One raises some pretty darn good questions. And honestly, even if you take this novel at face value, you'll get a chock full of action, feeling at times you are in an arcade game yourself.

There is one gripe I had with this book and it's probably not something that will affect readers in America. To me, Ready Player One seems to be America-centered novel, mostly because it couldn't take place around the world because the 80s pop culture the whole plot is involved in, is the pop culture of the U.S., which means that players from other countries (besides Japan, since the pieces of their pop culture were mentioned as well) wouldn't have much knowledge to go on. But that's possible I guess, since they could learn about it. However, the audience this book is intended for has to be American. Why do I say that? Because (myself coming from Poland and living through the 80s there), other countries had their own 80s to live through that had nothing to do with the pop culture used in Ready Player One. I lived through the 80s, one of the most tumultuous decades in the history of my country, Poland on the brink of the civil war, the 'march' to long-dreamed-of and hard-fought-for democracy, people dying fighting rather than living a day longer under a communist regime. Trust me, we had no idea what even a sitcom was. And that's just one country out of many. so unless you know the 80s in the U.S. either because you lived it, have family members who did, or have lived here for some substantial amount of time, it'll be difficult to fully appreciate this aspect of Ready Player One (not that it's not it won't be a hit, I can't know that and it's already been translated into many languages). But anyone can appreciate the message in the end. At least I hope so. Especially our young ones. That it's not all about picking which boy to choose, or how to vie for a girl's attention, and especially not about having the latest iPhone.
Trust me on this, though. You will not waste your time or money if you choose to read Cline's Ready Player One, no matter what age you are. It's that much fun.


FTC: I received Ready Player One by Ernest Cline for review from the publicist, Wunderkind PR.

The paperback copy of Ready Player One will be released on June 5th, 2012.
Make sure to visit Ernest Cline's website & Ready Player One's website.