Author: Ernest Cline
Published: August 16, 2011
Ready Player One is the first and most famous novel of author Ernest Cline. The premise is that in the future, people escape the miserable reality of a resource depleted, climate change raddled Earth to the virtual reality of the OASIS. The OASIS is a massive multiplayer rpg that has practically taken the place of the real world. The original creator’s will states that whoever can solve a challenging easter egg hunt that he set up himself within the game will inherit control of the whole OASIS and his whole, multi billion dollar fortune. Years pass until a teenager obsessed with 80s pop culture named Wade Watts finds the first clue, and the race is on to reach the prize before rivals and an evil mega corporation can beat him to it.
Ready Player One may have an interesting premise, but that can’t save it from its badly written characters, plot, and prose. The biggest example of this is the protagonist Wade Watts, easily one of the most shallow, wish fulfillment characters I’ve seen in years. He’s flat and I can barely remember what personality he has in the story. Apparently in the world of the novel, just having an obscene amount of knowledge regarding 1980s pop culture is enough to get you to succeed in life, which is exactly how Wade gets through the plot. Thanks to his obsessive knowledge of everything 80s, he starts off a broke, low level high school student and eventually becomes a rich, high level world famous celebrity. Whatever struggles he has or could potentially have are completely glossed over and just told to the reader rather than shown. For example, Wade eventually has some falling out with his best friend Aech, and he just tells it without us ever seeing it. He also has a romance sub-plot with Art3mis, the main female character that has next to no chemistry in it and has some rather creepy undertones to it.
The side characters really aren’t much better written. The love interest Art3mis is supposed to be this strong female character, and to her credit she is a more interesting character than Wade is with some cool moments. It still doesn’t fix the fact that she’s completely overshadowed by Wade and his shallow personality. The other important side characters are pretty flat as well, with Wade’s best friend Aech having barely any personality themselves or anything interesting about them at all aside from a completely preachy and clumsy reveal about their identity that makes you think the novel is deeper than it actually is. The antagonist is at least charismatic but he’s just a stereotypical evil businessman.
The plot has a quick, page turner pacing to it that will get the reader moving smoothly along from one event to the next due to the chapters’ short length. The quick pacing is the one good thing I can say about the plot because like the characters, it is shallow and badly written. The premise has the potential to be really interesting but it doesn’t seem concerned with actually exploring it. Oh it sprinkles some concepts to make it seem deeper than it actually is, like the evil mega corporation cheating to win the contest so they can control the OASIS and charge a subscription fee and insert advertisements into it being reflective of the net neutrality debate. Yet this, and the other issues the book stamps onto the plot aren’t actually explored with any nuance or even reveal something meaningful about the characters. The ending tries to have this message about not using escapism as a means of always avoiding the world, but it comes off as cheap and doesn’t really hold up considering Wade saves the whole world real and virtual via escapism
Lastly the writing style ranges from bland to insufferable. The dialogue is riddled with outdated slang that was already going out of style at the time it was published and is now just embarrassing to read now. The characters will actually say “noobs” and call the enemy faction called The Sixers the “Suxorz”. You know, because they suck (that is an actual line in the novel). If that wasn’t bad enough, the novel will usually stop the plot to explain a reference to 80s pop culture it makes because it assumes you care or are an idiot who can’t just look it up. The worst instance of this is when Wade spends a whole three pages bragging about how much 80s trivia he knows. If you grew up with 80s movies, games, comics, and books I guess you could forgive it but I found it to be needless and eye-rolling. At least the action scenes are described well.
Ready Player One is not the worst novel ever written, or even that I’ve ever read. It’s bad, but just bad. It’s like Sword Art Online: an interesting idea brought down by bad writing and characters. At its best it is a good airport book, but I found it to be mindless and didn’t think it worked as entertainment. My hope is that Steven Spielberg can manage to make a good or even great movie out of this sub-par novel, since he’s managed to do so before. As for Ernest Cline’s other novel Armada and his plans for a sequel, I have no interest in either.