“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.” (Ready Player One by Earnest Cline)
I have to admit I never thought I was what some would call ‘cool’, but I did not think I had as much 80’s knowledge stored under my belt as I apparently do. I avoided this book for a while in spite of the stellar reviews because I thought all the geeky references would fly over my head, but Cline makes his 80’s allusions in such a way that the reader feels smarter instead of overwhelmed. He may throw in a plot point about an obscure video game or D&D magazine every once in a while, but all that is really required is a working knowledge of pop culture, which means having seen things like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones (and who hasn’t?). So, I’m going to defy all the reviewers who call this book a ‘nerdgasm’, and claim that the appeal of this book is its fast-paced adventure story and relatable protagonist; the 80’s stuff is just atmosphere – don’t let it scare you away from this hilarious read.
If Ready Player One has a flaw, it is also one of its greatest strengths. At its heart, the book is a classic quest story-line, and as such it should be complete with the requisite exquisitely happy ending where all loose ends are tied up and everyone besides the bad guy lives happily ever after. Though the ending seems to be of the tying-up, happy variety, the reader can’t close the book without some unease. Cline sets his near-future adventure story in a world that is falling apart every which way; the main characters talk a lot about how to fix the world, but the book ends before the problems are fixed or even remotely addressed. It makes the ending feel a little like a veneer of happiness just painted over the grime of the background. Yet, if Cline were to go into the politics of the real world after the adventure ends, the book would no longer be a short, sweet quest, but instead a towering, bogged down work of advocacy. Cline succeeds in bringing the reader’s awareness to current problems while also entertaining them with an adventure, and if the two of these aims sit uneasily in the same book, perhaps Cline meant it to be so. Is the reader supposed to come away from the book feeling satisfied, or feeling like something needs to be done in the real world?
Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Ending: Seemingly happy yet slightly unsettling.
Further Reading: This book is a veritable bible of further 80’s entertainment. However, if you are looking for more of the ‘fast-paced adventure’ sort, I’d recommend Enders Game by Card and Mistborn by Sanderson. And, though this is not at all a read-alike, the sardonic, slightly crazy teenage narrator’s voice reminded me a lot of of Holden Caulfield…