Here’s the thing, I know that we don’t usually review books here at Classic Game Room, but this one is different. Remember the episode of Futurama where Fry pops in a Rush mix-tape and proceeds to emulate Space Invaders? Ready Player One is like that but turned up to eleven.
By the year 2044 the planet has gone to ruin. Pollution and poverty have driven many to take refuge in the OASIS, an online virtual world that has subsumed the Internet. In years gone by, the OASIS was flooded by thousands of people hunting for the keys that would, as per the will of James Halliday the creator of the OASIS, unlock the Easter Egg and give the holder ownership of the virtual world. But that was seemingly ages ago and, with little to no progress, interest in the Easter Egg has wained leaving only the most hardcore egg hunters looking. The prize seems as far off as ever until Wade, a high school student and avid hunter, solves the first clue and rekindles interest in the search. And that’s when things start to get interesting for Wade, both in and out of game.
To put it another way, Ready Player One is like Snowcrash meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wherein Halliday is obsessed with ’80s pop culture instead of chocolate, and Wade is good at trivia and video games instead of sword fighting. If that doesn’t sound awesome then you read that sentence wrong. Ready Player One is a chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter type experience.
Author Ernest Cline is an unabashed gamer, having Halliday take his cues from the first widely known video game Easter egg in Atari’s Adventure. With clues in everything from Dungeons and Dragons to Zork, Ready Player One is a love letter to the ’80s and classic gaming. But references alone do not a good book make. Luckily an engrossing plot and entertaining characters keep the book from being a fan walk through a previous decade. It’s a delicate balancing act letting characters debate the merits of Ladyhawke and still managing to push the plot forward, but it works wonderfully.
Above all else, Ready Player One is a fun read. From cover to cover Cline tells an enthralling story that touches on themes of self identity, corporatization, and introversion without coming across as being overly preachy. Much in the same way he keeps the references from being overly clever or too in your face. And if, for any reason, you weren’t paying attention in the ’80s the references relevant to the story are carefully explained without seeming extraneous or unnecessary if you do know.
Ready Player One is, at its core, a lighthearted science fiction story. There are holes to be found in it if you want to be pedantic. But if the holes found in the back story of Pac-Man don’t stop you from playing then those in the book shouldn’t stop you from reading. Like the insert coin to continue screen in any arcade, Ready Player One is a book that begs you to keep reading and it’s well worth the credits.