I was too young to remember the eighties, but according to Ernest Cline they were a blast. Great movies, great music, great fashion and most importantly great games. Ready player one is an ode to the eighties, especially to the first computer and console games that became publicly available.
Wade is a teenager growing up in a dystopian future, where the only place to find solace and entertainment is the virtual world of OASIS. Real life is miserable: environmental pollution, energy crisis, poverty, you name it. When real life is so bleak, it is no wonder everyone wants to escape to the OASIS. And now there is an incentive to spend even more time in this virtual world. The creator of the OASIS (an eighties enthusiast) has died, and in his testament he has left everything he owns to the person who manages to find the Easter egg that he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS. Players have to follow the breadcrumbs of clues that he has left behind in order to find the egg and inherit everything. Wade is desperate to find the egg and change his life. But when so much money is at stake, finding the egg becomes a matter of life and death.
Although I became a teenager during the early nineties, a lot of the eighties’ popular culture coloured my upbringing. The ATARI games, the John Hughes films, the Pink Floyd music were all part of my childhood and any references to them put a smile on my face, at least at first. Because there were a LOT of references, so many that the book almost reads like a catalogue of all things Cline considers cool. I found this problematic in the beginning of the book, before the real action begins. Later it is not as noticeable any more.
There were a couple of things that I found mildly distracting. First of all, I felt that the subject matter (the aforementioned ode to the eighties) was aimed towards those of us old enough (or curious enough) to have experienced or explored that decade’s pop culture; however, the simple language this book was written in and the age of the protagonist suggest that Cline was hoping for a teenager/young adult audience, who (I am guessing) have little knowledge of the eighties. I am not sure what audience Cline wrote for, but if it was meant for us who belong in the first group, I would have wished for more nuanced writing and a more complex back story. I couldn’t help wanting to find out more about the real world in Cline’s book. It is suggested that Wade wants to escape it and spends all of his free time in the OASIS, but the motivation behind it is never explained in depth.
Second of all, there were many instances where there is no set-up for what is about to happen. Instead, things are explained after they have happened. Example: Wade has to fight an enemy. Only after the enemy is introduced do we get to find out that Wade just so happens to have an item in his inventory which allows him to annihilate his enemy. I realise that this is in line with the magical world in which all of this takes place, but at the same time it feels like a deus ex machina that appears a little too often to save the day: there is no real suspense and it feels like cheating. Moreover, it means that we don’t always get to follow Wade as he solves the problems he comes across. We find out how he’s done it only after he’s solved them. It makes it hard to identify with him.
Minor annoyances aside, this book was an easy, quick, entertaining read, as long as you don’t expect a literary masterpiece and just want to have a fun ride.