Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Review - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

It's been ages since I've done a full-on book review. So let's start it in style with the evening TV lineup of August 5, 1985.

No, this isn't the full list of channels that were available. The guide went on to include several PBS stations, a few independent stations, and cable channels. But we didn't have cable. And our antenna wasn't big enough to get those independent channels. And of the PBS channels we did get, they were either fuzzy with static or chock-full of boring programs. I mean, what kid wants to watch the MacNeil Lehrer News Hour? Maybe Alex P. Keaton.

Anyway, what you see above is what I had to pick from. More than what I had to pick from really since we only got channel 4 (NBC), 5 (FOX), 7 (ABC), and 9 (CBS). The big four networks. I can remember watching a lot of different shows as a kid and a few of them are listed here. Happy Days. Mork & Mindy. One Day At A Time. M*A*S*H. The rest of the stuff was after my bedtime. I mean, it was 1985 so I wasn't even 10 years old yet.

So what does this trip down memory lane have to do with Ernie Cline's book? A shit-ton. A metric shit-ton. Ready Player One is a book set in the future that lives in the past. The future is bleak with starvation, over-population, and crime being the norm. It's no wonder everyone wants to escape into the online world of OASIS where you can be anyone you want to be.

Surely there is some hidden or layered meaning behind the dark future and the politics that play out within OASIS, but I ignored it. I've been a fan of dystopian stories for decades so reading another one was nice. At least at the start. Later in the book the real world was a little forgotten and I wanted to see more of it. But maybe that was the hidden tale of the future that I ignored.

OASIS is basically a giant alternate universe that's online. Everyone logs in and lives there life online. Kind of like the Sims or World of Warcraft, but on steroids. Kids go to school here, people wage wars, use magic, live in the past, and anything else you can think of. For a gaming nerd, this book is heaven. For a non-gaming nerd, this book is still easy to understand.

The basic plot is the standard trope of a young kid getting sucked into an adventure. A trope that's often overused but is still believable and easy to relate to. The MacGuffin, yet another standard tool in storytelling, is introduced when the guy behind OASIS dies. His last wish is to send everyone on a grand adventure to find three keys and three gates. If you make it to the end, you win. If you win, you get to become the richest person on the planet.

Along the way the kid gets sucked into all sorts of schemes and plots in both OASIS and real life. Cline does a good job keeping the reader engrossed with action and 80s trivia. Music, movies, TV shows, video games, and anything else that could be found in the 80s played a key role in the book. Even though I never played that many video games as a kid, I was never really lost when I read the book. I'm sure a few references went over my head but it never took me out of the story.

In the end the kid wins. If you didn't see it coming, well, you're clearly not familiar with that trope either. I mean, the good guy always wins, right?

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely. I'd even go so far as to make it required reading for anyone that was a kid in the 1980s because, well, it's just nice to take a trip down memory lane sometimes.

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