Thursday, 14 June 2012

'Ready Player One' - Ernest Cline (Crown)

Ever since I read 'The Lies of Locke Lamora' about a year and a bit after everyone else, I've got the art of arriving late to the party down to a fine art. Not that I do it deliberately; I love talking about books with people so I want to read the books that other people are reading when they're reading them. It never seems to work out that way though... 'The Lies of Locke Lamora', 'The Name of the Wind'; I'm so late reading 'The Heroes' that I may as well not bother at all (I will though, of course I will) And then there's 'Ready Player One'.

About a year ago, everyone was reading 'Ready Player One' and going on about how great it was. I had a copy sat on the shelf waiting to be read that I somehow contrived to igonore completely until a few days ago... I don't know how I do this but it always happens.
It was when I received an email asking if I'd like a paperback copy to review that I thought to myself, 'don't I still have the hardback somewhere...?' I did and I got reading straight away. I'm really glad that I did as it would have quite literally been a crime to have left 'Ready Player One' any longer. What an amazing read...

It's the year 2044 and the world is reeling from global unemployment, a decades long energy crisis and a climate beyond hope of repair. Famine, poverty and disease are widespread and the only escape from the daily grind lies within a virtual world just the blink of an eye away from our own.
Lke most of humanity, Wade Watts spends most of the day plugged into the OASIS, a virtual universe of ten thousand planets where you be anything you want to be. What Wade wants to be is the first person to solve the riddles scattered through the OASIS by its deceased creator, James Halliday. Whoever cracks these puzzles will inherit not only Halliday's fortune but control of the OASIS itself. All you need to stand a chance of winning is to be as clued up about eighties pop culture as Halliday was himself. It's been years since the contest began and people are beginning to think that no-one will ever solve the first riddle... Until the day that, quite by chance, Wade stumbles across the solution.
Now the race is on in earnest with a number of people willing to commit murder in the real world to gain control of the virtual one. Wade Watts may know his eighties trivia and can make his way round the OASIS with the best of them; now he must come to grips with a world that he has spent his life trying his best to ignore...

Whenever everyone raves about a particular book I can't help but be a little cynical. I mean, no book is that great... is it? 'Ready Player One' may not be that book but it's so close that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. There were a few bits that I found myself skimming but I couldn't drag my eyes away from the rest of the book.

'Ready Player One' is a homage to all the stuff that anyone reading this blog will have loved about the nineteen eighties, all wrapped up in a technothriller plot where what's at stake is nothing less than the fate of an entire universe. Ok, it may only be a virtual universe but Cline spells it out, really clearly, that this is a huge deal. When the real world is falling to pieces you've got to take care of what's left and there are people out there prepared to make the OASIS worse for everyone else. By showing us, in loving detail, just what you can expect to find in the OASIS Cline lets us fall in love with it as well and we're left rooting for Wade and his friends. It certainly didn't take me long to size things up and realise who I wanted to win.

Going back to the homage then and I found that there were times that this approach worked against the plot as much as it helped it.
It's not a spoiler at all to say that'Ready Player One' is every single one of those films you watched, as a kid, where the school loser not only proves himself to the rest of the school/alien warriors recruiting through an arcade game etc but gets together with the hot girl right at the end. It's a familiar theme then and one that perhaps takes a little bit away from the suspense that Cline tries to work up over the course of the book. To be fair, there are moments where you feel that things could go either way but, hanging over it all, is the knowledge that there's only one way it can finish up.

Having said that though, that's really the whole point of the book (what with being a homage and all) so my advice is if you've picked the book up for a read then just enjoy it for what it is. That's what I did and my experience was all the better for it. ‘Ready Player One’ tears along at a furious rate and every time the book thinks you’re lagging behind another bit of eighties trivia is tossed out as an incentive for you to keep up. The rate and variety of this trivia is such that I’m pretty sure that Ernest Cline could give James Halliday a run for his money. Add a main character that is self aware enough to be truly engaging and the result for me was a book that made for compulsive reading. Apart from those times when Cline geeked out a little too much over his own creation that is; I’m talking about the occasions when he would go into the OASIS technology in a little too much detail. It served no purpose to the rest of the plot and that’s when I started skim reading…

That’s a very small complaint though when I was able to spend several absorbing hours revisiting my childhood and taking a look into the future all at the same time. ‘Ready Player One’ has claimed a permanent spot on my bookshelves and it’ll do the same for you if it hasn’t already. When you finish reading this review go and find yourself a copy.

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

8 comments:

Jo said...

Nice to read your thoughts on this! My book group has this as an upcoming selection, so I'll be reading it soon (and I'm looking forward to both reading it, and hearing what other people have to say about it).

Elfy said...

I loved this one too, Graeme. It was one of my top 5 for 2011. I guess as I'm a child of the 80's it was no surprise. Like you, one of the things that drew me in, was the whole 80's move feel about it.

Liesel K Hill said...

Haven't read it but thanks to your review, I just might. I love books with little riddles and mini-whodunits. The idea of 80s trivia being thrown in sounds like a lot of fun! Thanks for the review! :D

musingsonfantasia.blogspot.com

SusieBookworm (Susanna) said...

I think I dragged my heels about reading this a little, too, but couldn't put it down once I started! I didn't think the writing was that great, but somehow the plot and details were so great that they totally made up for it.

Jay said...

I'm a fairly cynical guy but I really enjoyed this book. I had a few nitpicks but the story was so just so dang fun to read.

As for books left too long on the to read shelf, I finally read Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon The Deep after 10 years of it staring at me.. I kicked myself for waiting so long.

UK said...

This is really a quest novel in the grand tradition of great fantasy literature. We have obstacles to overcome and evil-doers to defeat, and "magic," albeit computer generated, along the way.. There is plenty of action in this book and you will be turning the pages eagerly to read what happens next.

One of the (many) things that makes this book so wonderful are all the 80's references, especially to the video games and music and movies that so many of us fondly remember.

Anonymous said...

Wow...Ready Player One was such a page-turner! I think Cline's idea was brilliant and now, as a wannabe writer, I keep trying to find a way to connect my stories to Ready Player One without plagiarizing. I love how the OASIS isn't just a game world, it's pretty much our world with a little--okay, a LOT--of science fiction to spice it up. Ever since I read the book, I've wanted to be like Halliday and make an extremely cool game world...unfortunately, my programming skills aren't worth a dime.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, waiting to read A Fire Upon the Deep... bad move )

Do you still have A Deepness in the Sky left? It's even better if you ask me.