Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Entertaining Story/Potential Missed

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ready Player One is a fine little story about young man in a virtual world trying to win a contest and trying to keep from getting killed, in the game and in the real world (which is strangely distant) in this book. From that description, it probably doesn't seem like much more than a novelized version of Tron, but the book is really much more exciting and interesting than I am making it out to be.

Ernest Cline does a good job drawing the universe and various "worlds" in the OASIS, where a contest/war is being waged for an item left by the creator of the OASIS. The player who finds it will become heir to the empire left by a ramped up Steve Jobs/Bill Gates/geek. In this book, that empire means pretty much the whole world, or what is left of it worth having. 

I'm told a movie of this book is in the works, and I'm sure, in the right hands, it could be a fine film. But I have some reservations. First, the author/narrator's obsession with the 1980s is, in a word, baffling. The story presents this decade as a golden age of all things artistic, when it was only a golden age for video games. References to terrible television shows and mostly (thank you, Rush) bad music, made me groan throughout the reading. Second, the out and out worship of James Halliday, creator of the OASIS, is disturbing. The protagonist (a teenager named Wade Watts) not only loves what the genius made and achieved, but even applauds his anti-social, psychologically destructive behavior. Had there been some sort of revelation that Halliday had realized that he was out of touch with his humanity, I might have been okay, but -- spoiler alert -- Halliday's approach to life is mirrored in the disciples who stumble only into their own human connections.

These objections are more about my personal preferences than the quality of the book. Ready Player One does suffer, just a little bit, with some of the stilted prose one finds in some first novels. And it reads, in some ways, like a formula road trip/buddy movie/coming of age story. But once the tale gets going, it really is an adventure. Wade Watts' quest is one that demands not only his considerable skill in gaming, but also requires him to learn about himself and how much growing up he has to do. He falls in love, of course, and has to figure out how his feelings connect to his goals. The obstacles Cline puts his character through (aforementioned 80s references aside) are clever and fun to read about. Of course, I was rooting for the hero, but I enjoyed watching as he worked to overcome his problems, not just by shooting bad guys, but by using his head. The part of the novel where Wade goes undercover was particularly engaging.

Chances are most readers will get more out the book than I did. Perhaps my disappointment is that novel could have been more than it is. Nonetheless, there is a lot of fun to be had in reading Ready Player One.

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