Ready Player One came out in 2011. I had heard great things about it and finally decided to check it out. I’m pretty stingy with my book choices and it is a best seller that has 4.5 stars on Amazon with more than 8,500 reviews and 4.31 rating with over 233,000 ratings and 33,000 reviews on goodReads.
Ready Player One starts out very promising with a good post-apocolyptic cyber-punkish feel set in the year 2044. But it quickly turns into an episode of MTV’s “I love the 80s”. You can’t get 3 sentences without the author name-dropping some 80’s cartoon/movie/actor/band/song.
The premise of the story is that there was a game designer from the 1980s who creates the best gaming system in the world over the next few decades. It is an entire virtual universe. People connect to this virtual universe (called the OASIS) using virtual reality goggles and haptic feedback sensors such as gloves or a body suit. Different worlds seem to be massively multiplayer games that have all the best parts of all the popular PC games such as The Sims, Spore, World of Warcraft, etc.
The creator of this system filled it with 1980s memorabilia. Entire planets are designed to look and feel exactly like the player is re-living the 1980s. The creator has died (being 70-something years old in 2044…) but he hid a special easteregg in the OASIS system. All the players are trying to find it because it will give you control of the entire system. The system is worth billions of dollars. As this is a dystopian novel there’s an evil supercorporation also vying for the easter egg.
That’s all I can say without giving too much away, but what I take issue with is the focus on the 1980s. With more focus on the story or the characters, this could be a great book but instead it’s about 50 pages of story and about 320 pages of 80s references.
Do you remember the 80s? It sucked. The music, the clothing styles, the color schemes used on everything… gah. I’m reminded of it every time I see some hipster doofus with skinny jeans or listen to the radio nowadays. I think of the 80s as almost like the dark ages of style… except you can’t call it the dark ages… maybe the NEON ages. This book simply panders to hipsters that like saying “Hey man, remember Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time”? Remember Wham and Devo? Remember the TRS-80 computer? Remember Galaga arcade games? Remember the Goonies? Weren’t those things just the best!?” (This is not hyperbole. These are just a few of the hundreds of needless 80s references, practically 2 per page in the 350+ page book!)
Now I’m all for 80s video games. I’m not a gamer but I appreciate the art and the ingenuity of games. In fact, I prefer some of the 80s era video games over games nowadays because of the programming tricks that were involved to get certain features out of the very limited hardware. The programmers had to be very clever to even get some systems to draw full screen color graphics. Nowadays, no one thinks much about that kind of thing because every system has gigabytes of RAM, GPUs that can handle all sorts of crazy 3D rendering and multicore processors. While there is certainly amazing work done nowadays, I feel that the 80s were a special time in video game history that should be appreciated. Unfortunately the way this was done in Ready Player One left a bad taste in my mouth.
I’ve heard they are making a movie out of this book. I admit while reading it, I could easily see it as a movie, but this is mainly because this movie has already been made. There’s nothing novel here whatsoever. If you take some random distopian/cyber punk 80s movies, add a dash of video game story lines from over the last 30 years, and a pinch of Hackers (from the mid 90s), mix them all together, you get this movie. I was much more interested in the book/movie The Martian by Andy and hopefully they will make a movie of Wool (the Silo Series) by Hugh Howey which came out around the same time but is much better.
All together I give it a 2 out of 5 rating based on the story itself and for wasting my time with all the reminders of a horrible decade for style (since for some reason I did read the whole book).
At random, I flipped to a page in the book (page 106). Here are the references for just that one page. Mind you, this book is set in the year 2044: