Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book Review- Ready Player One

Cline. I wasn't expecting much, but wanted to see what all the hype was about. It turned out to be a fun read.

In a future world where society is in decline, people spend most of their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality world that offers endless entertainment and educational opportunities. There are elements of RPG, and heavy doses of geek culture and 1980s nostalgia. Imagine Sheldon Cooper created a version of Caprica's "V-World" and you won't be far off the mark.The creator of the OASIS left a scavenger hunt embedded within his massive virtual universe. The first to complete it will inherit massive wealth and gain control of the OASIS. book proceeds in typical YA fashion: underprivileged, outcast youth living in dystopia escapes into the OASIS. Eventually, with the help of a diverse cast of characters, he finds himself on the hunt for the prize, facing off against dangers within the OASIS and without, driven by the big, bad corporate entity that threatens to claim the virtual world and focus on maximizing revenue, thus squeezing out people like Wade (or Parcival, as he is known in the OASIS.) The plot plays out much like you would expect if you read a lot of YA literature.

The story is rife with nerd/geek and 1980s pop culture references: video games, board games, television, movies, music... I'm not much of a gamer, and there are many aspects of geek culture that don't interest me, but I still enjoyed the many references, and the allusions to things that aren't in my nerd wheelhouse didn't leave me feeling disconnected. In some sections, particularly in one early chapter, the story bogs down as Cline engages in some massive info-dumps. I can understand why some people gave up on the book at this stage (it's really that bad in a couple places) but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did.

The story poses a few questions that, as a former English teacher, I think would have made for interesting classroom discussion:
-Are virtual-world (online) friendships less "real" because the people haven't met in real life, or are they more real because they are primarily "mental" connections, our judgment unclouded by things like race, sexual orientation, or physical appearance, which tend to color our judgment (no pun intended)?
-Do the negatives of a virtual world outweigh the positives?
-Will the continued development of technology, and our many options for entertainment distract us from caring for the real world or even engaging in it?

There's nothing deep or profound here, and some of the diverse aspects of certain characters are treated as afterthoughts. ("Oh, by the way, now that the story is almost over, I should let you know my actual gender, race, and sexual orientation,  and then we'll pretty much forget I mentioned it.") Some critics have accused Cline of writing a wish-fulfillment story. Maybe it's true, but that's a criticism that could be leveled against many, many books. I've read plenty of other criticisms, which you can find via a simple web search if you're so inclined.

Overall, Ready Player One is a "by the numbers," yet entertaining novel. Wil Wheaton's narration of the audiobook is solid. This was the first of his narrations I've listened to, and he's very good.  I'll definitely give Cline's next book, Armada, a try.

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