I want two things from life. To deserve the love of a dog and to recommend to you Ready Player One. I’m two gin and tonics away from commissioning a shirt that reads “Can I pet your dog?” on one side and “Have you read Ready Player One?” on the other. It’d save time getting to the point of any conversation I want to have and, even better, if you answer “OMG yes”, then we get to enjoy a mutually satisfying nerdgasm at a faster rate.
RPO is the ultimate sci-fi book for nerds, nerdy newbies, and nerd-adjacents who just want to dip a toe in the pool. It’s bursting with every form of nerd pop culture – comic books, fantasy/sci-fi books, old school video games, VR technology that’s probably a real thing by now and, tying it all together, 80’s nostalgia. And if that doesn’t turn you on, don’t let it chase you away either, because Cline has a way of making you feel like it’s your obsession, too. The book begins in the dystopian future, narrated by Wade Watts, a kid living in a precarious tenement of stacked trailers who logs into the OASIS everyday – to attend school and to escape his reality. When James Halliday – creator of the massive simulated universe – dies, he leaves behind a virtual Easter Egg hunt for his fortune and for control of the OASIS. With the announcement of Halliday’s hunt, Wade (Parzival, as he’s known online) throws himself headlong into the pursuit of the prize.
I experienced a varying degree of emotions with this book so to organize those feelings, I’m going to break it down Pixar’s Inside Out style. Let’s start with the dominant feeling of Joy. The world building in the first half fills me with so much freaking joy that the most coherent thing I can say is that I just want to go to there. It’s impossible not to fall into Cline’s tightly crafted world and believe it could happen, and WANT it to happen (minus the global crisis and widespread poverty). And then, at the midpoint of the book, I shifted from absolute reverence to wary self-consciousness. I began to Fear that I’d stumbled into a sordid D&D meeting and we were about to get busted by some cool kids from school, but it was only my first offense so it just didn’t seem fair to get branded as a super geek just yet! And that’s when Disgust set in. Disgust at myself that I, a proud self-proclaimed Nerdy Girl, still contained the seeds of judgement. Which, since I’m still going with this format, leads to Anger. Directed at my 6th grade ENGLISH teacher for smirking at me when I told him my favorite book was part of a fantasy series called Wild Magic, featuring an orphaned young girl who discovers she’s not crazy, she can just talk to animals (it’s so much more complicated than that – a review for different post). If he’d been less of a cool kid about the awesome genres of sci-fi and fantasy and given me some life-changing recommendations, like english teachers in movies, maybe I wouldn’t be doing so much catch up right now! So, 20 years later, I shook off a buried layer of old prejudice and self-doubt and embraced the neglected-yet-forgiving gamer girl inside and let her take over and just relish this new world.
Ready Player One was first listened to on audiobook, then read in print, and then listened to on audio again because it’s that good.
P.S. I haven’t forgotten Sadness. She came later, with Ernest Cline’s second novel Armada. He took the same tricks used in RPO and inverted them, but with much much much less success. What felt original and fresh in his first work wilted into tropiness. Consider this my official review for Armada.