Review: Ready Player One


Ready Player One has one hell of a hook: the creator of an online MMO-style world has died, and he's leaving his fortune to whoever can reach the hidden ending within his game. Like a Golden Ticket for World of Warcraft. Every gamer's dream.

The book paints the picture of a dystopian future where pollution and an "energy crisis" leave the world in an unlivable, awful state. Most people spend their time immersed in The OASIS, a virtual world accessed with VR goggles and haptic gloves. The setting is realistic and believable, and the book is immediately engrossing. The creator of The OASIS was obsessed with the 1980s, the decade he grew up in, so the virtual world he created is replete with pop culture references. The entire book is a grin-inducing walk down memory lane.

Unfortunately, beyond that, the book has very little going for it. I struggled to finish, and only did so out of an obligation of completeness. 

The plot is bland and predictable: an unexpected boy is the one to find the first "key" to The OASIS puzzle. The characters are one-dimensional and have no real development. The protagonist eases his way through the book without any real strife, succeeding in a never-ending series of deus-ex-machina style skills:

  • "To get the first key you had to beat the Skeleton King at the game Joust. Fortunately, I'm the best in the world at it and win on the first try!"
  • "To complete the first gate I had to reenact the entire War Games movie. Fortunately, I've watched it a billion times and know all the lines by heart!"
  • "To get the one-up coin I had to play a perfect game of Pac-Man, something only 5 people have ever done in history! Even though I'm rusty at my Pac-Man skills, I become the 6th person after just a few hours."
  • "To get the second key I had to beat the game Zork. Fortunately, I know the game by heart!"
  • "To pass through the second gate I had to reenact the movie Blade Runner. Fortunately, I know the movie by heart!"

It's that sort of thing, repeated over and over. There's never any struggle, strife, or hardship, beyond the first ten pages of the book where the protagonist's living quarters are described (which stops being an issue a few pages later when he's suddenly famous and rich). 

Plot issues aside, the writing disappointed me. It's extremely "telly" (as opposed to showy). The pacing is strange and frustrating: Cline will spend pages and pages describing something unimportant, like the posters on the wall of their chat room. Then, when we reach an important part of the story (such as reaching the Dungeon where the first key resides) he'll skip past all of the action with a single "I completed the dungeon and reached the final room," type sentence. It's maddening. 

Overall, the simplicity of the story and the quality of the writing make this book feel like a Middle Grade book masquerading as adult fiction. I think it will do much better as a movie (which is due out in 2018), but as for the book, you can get the same experience merely by reading a list of 1980s movies and videogames from wikipedia. 

I don't know what I expected with this book, but it's certainly not what I got.