Often an author’s first novel isn’t especially good, but Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is an exception to that general rule. Cline creates a future world with likable characters, plenty of action, and a noble quest. What more could a reader want? It also helps if you appreciate 1980s pop culture, music, movies, and video games.
Wade lives outside Oklahoma City in a dank and grim world. The housing market and economy are a mess, so his family lives in the “stacks,” which are vertical RV parks. To escape reality, and because he can, Wade spends most of his time in a complex simulated world called OASIS. Inside this world, Wade hunts for the ultimate Easter Egg—a valuable prize hidden inside OASIS.
Ernest Cline succeeds in creating a genre mashup within Ready Player One. The 1980s references are so intense and constant that they practically make this historical fiction. It’s a social commentary on the culture of isolation engendered by video games and social media. There’s a tremendous amount of action and mystery all wrapped into the action of the quest for the Easter egg. And of course, this bleak future setting is quintessential dystopia.
Cline’s writing is crisp and the action never lags. It’s not a character-driven book, but there’s enough development that I cared about Wade and his compatriots. It couldn’t have been easy to incorporate the zillions of 1980s references, but Cline does it with aplomb. I laughed and groaned at some of my own memories of arcades, music, and movies from that time.
Ready Player One is coming to the silver screen, and I’m curious how it will be adapted. It should be a great “popcorn movie.” So I suppose this makes it a “popcorn book”—one designed for a good time, but not necessarily a lot of introspection. I enjoyed the hell out of it!