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“Ready Player One” – A Geek Manual for 80’s Pop Culture

Ready Player OneThere are some books that are required reading. If you’re heavy into science fiction those books could include Frank Herbert’s Dune, or possibly Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, or Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land. However if you’re into pure fantasy, arguably J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings are immediately thought of. But what if you just simply regard yourself as a geek? Do people like us have anything that could be considered required reading? While the argument could be made for any of the above-mentioned selections, one obvious book must be Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One.

The book’s setting is almost a little cliché. As with so many other popular science fiction stories aimed at the young adult audience, this future is a dystopian one. In the year 2044, global warming altered the Earth’s landscape, and the economic disparity that exists goes beyond those of the “haves versus have nots.” In short, Earth is not a very nice place to live on. That’s where the biggest gimmick to come along figures, and that is virtual reality. But this is not just any type of VR. Humanity has been “blessed” with a virtual universe called OASIS. It’s a place where people go to escape the harsh reality that has besieged the world, and it has become so incredibly popular that the OASIS currency has greater stability than in the real world. It is here we meet Wade, a humble teenager who comes from a very bad living situation. His only family is his aunt, and they are dirt poor. His only escape from reality is the OASIS where he goes for his schooling, as well as any social interaction he might be able to enjoy, and it is in this OASIS that a single discovery changes his life in ways he could never imagine.

The book is all told from Wade’s point of view. This is a first person book, but with a title like Ready Player One it can only be told as such. He is the representation of all those who read this book. What makes it so much fun are all of the “geeky references” the story is filled with. We learn that hidden inside the OASIS are a complex set of 3 puzzles, and whoever is the first person to solve all of the puzzles will receive incredible wealth that has been left behind by the creator of OASIS, James Halliday. It just so happens that this creator was a fanatic for all things 80’s, and even some 70’s, pop culture. Some of the references are only in passing, while others take on a more prominent role in the book. However the story isn’t without its threat as there is a very nefarious organization seeking to win the Grand Prize so that it may co-opt the OASIS for its own selfish designs, and that is when the runaway train ride begins.

Cline very cleverly inserts moments of enlightenment at key points throughout the book, almost as if to serve as a reminder as to what the real bigger issues are. For starters, the biggest recurring theme that runs throughout the story is more of an indictment against the avoidance of the real world. Yes, the Earth is in pretty sad shape with hunger and poverty running rampant, but those problems are never solved when people can find greater diversions within OASIS. At the same time, Wade (who has created his own OASIS Avatar he has called Parzival) has become something of a celebrity inside OASIS. He was the first one to solve the first set of puzzles and is now a star. He now has more OASIS wealth than he has ever dreamt of, and this allows him more luxuries than most people could ever hope for. Here we have a psychological study of what happens to people who live in abject poverty, and then suddenly are wealthy and famous. We see these types of stories play out in real life through lottery and Power Ball winners, and we also see how they let their lives get ruined through reckless indulgence. Wade/Parzival almost experiences that himself, but it is through his associations with other friends in the OASIS, his best friend Aech (pronounced like the letter H), Art3mis, and two young Japanese men, Daito and Shoto, that help him to realize what is important and how it is vital that all of them keep their focus on winning the Grand Prize.

But the book isn’t all grim studies about the human condition. Cline shows the reader how much of an avid fan of geek culture he really is, and just like the late creator of OASIS (Halliday), we are taken on an endless parade of the greatest pop cultural references in any single book. From comic books, the popular bands and recording artists of the 80’s (Wade/Parzival couldn’t help but make mention of when a song was released, by which artist, and the title of the album whenever the opportunity arose), to computer games, and even to both Japanese Kaiju (Gamera) and Tokusatsu (Ultraman) as well as anime (Voltron), this book has it all. There are even some delightfully played out scenes from two movies that are regarded as near and dear to most geeks’ collective hearts, that being Wargames (a movie I love) and much to my absolute delight, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Towards the end we are taken on a breathless ride of exciting adventure through computer games and huge battles that really play to the “theater of the mind,” and just when you think you know where the book goes, Cline pulls a fast one and throws you in a new direction. Yet through all of this, one may expect an anti-climactic ending given this enormous build-up on such a grand scale. Not so, as Cline delivers with a wonderful dénouement that treats the reader with intelligence and enormous respect. If there is anything negative to be taken away is the sadness I experienced when the book was over.

We here at TG2 Studios were turned onto this book by loyal listeners Claire O Leary and David Wagner, and that was in response to two stories where we first reported that Ready Player One Pushed Back To 2018 Release, and more recently that Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One has cast Tye Sheridan in lead role. When we posed the question as to whether or not we should read the book first or see the movie (which luckily for us Ernest Cline is writing the screenplay), both Claire and David quite enthusiastically voiced their support in checking the book out first. Now because our daytime jobs are so varied, Keith Lane (one half of the TG Geeks) was able to read the book while I (the other half) listened to an unabridged audio book that was amazingly read by Wil Wheaton. In any case, it is with great gratitude that we thank both Claire and David for their recommendation in exploring this great adventure.

As I said, when I finished with this book I was immediately greeted with a sense of sadness, for Ready Player One easily became my OASIS.
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Have you had a chance to read Ready Player One? What did you think of this book? Is it as grand a book as this review suggests, or is this a story that you might consider to be overrated?
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