By Mollie Campbell.
Book: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Genre: Science-Fiction, Dystopian
When I read the synopsis for ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline I was intrigued, but not enough to give it a read. This was due to the fact that I am not a gamer; the last video game I played was probably Mario Kart Wii when I was about 10 years old, I bought a PlayStation 4 three years ago and I still do not own a single ps4 game, instead using it for Netflix…you get the idea. But when I read the blurb in a bookshop and not online, I felt more inclined to give it chance, I find it rather difficult to deny a book a read when I am holding the finished work in my hands, imagining the author sat in a room pouring out parts of their soul onto every page. This is just one example of the power that books have over me, I felt inspired to read it and I am glad I did. As soon as I opened the first page I was hooked, Cline’s writing has such honesty to it. He writes so descriptively I could envision myself inside of the protagonist’s world within a few pages; this is something seasoned writers find hard to accomplish even in the space of a whole chapter…Cline manages to do it within the mere opening pages, which is rather astonishing for a first published work.
Not only does he establish a completely otherworldly society, he also has the ability to catapult us into the world he is writing about, as if we are the avatars roaming around the OASIS. He opens the book from the perspective of protagonist Wade Watts, a poor high school student living in the ‘Stacks’…which is basically a trailer park gone wrong. He paints such a vivid picture for the reader with such descriptive words, all effortlessly strung together yet it isn’t boring, it only takes him a few sentences to set the scene. We learn about the entire OASIS straight away, the OASIS is a simulation in which many people live their lives, it is where people can live behind the masks of their avatars…anything is possible, Wade even attends his school as an online avatar. Not only is this a very exciting concept, it is also foreshadowing where we could be headed in reality, the simulation is created as something to distract people, it provides a space in which people can find an escape from their lives of misery. The book is set in the 2040’s, fossil-fuels have essentially been exhausted, global warming truly has become the crisis we are currently being warned of, the world’s population is at an all-time high and quality of life is generally poor for any member of society who does not fall into the top financial bracket. The OASIS is their sole source of sanctuary, or the only place in which they can find some sort of happiness.
Wade Watts falls into this category, both of his parents are dead and the only excitement he feels is when he logs into the OASIS…then one day James Halliday, the creator of the simulation passes away. He leaves a video message for the whole world, giving everyone a quest to find his Easter egg, hidden somewhere inside the OASIS. The winner would ultimately inherit his multi-billion dollar fortune and his entire estate (include ownership of the OASIS). Wade devotes his life to finding the egg, and after five years of trying he finds the first key, igniting a worldwide battle for the egg once more, after a disheartening stagnant period. This is an electrifying tale of one kid’s mission, Cline introduces some heart-warming characters along the way, and naturally there are many Easter eggs within the book itself, literary prizes for the reader to enjoy, given to us by our very own James Halliday…Ernest Cline. What really gives the book its uniqueness is the use of a multitude of different outlets, this isn’t just for gamers, this book has everything. Nostalgic warmth is buried within its core and it oozes with sentiment and a longing for years gone by, perfect for an 80’s obsessed 21 year old like me. The references to 80’s bands, songs, album covers, video games, books, movies, TV-shows, even breakfast cereals is what makes the book so thrilling, yet it never feels forced, the reader doesn’t feel bombarded with references, instead it is satisfying. And also crucial to the plot as the key to Wade finding this egg is in the creator’s obsession with anything to do with the 80’s, the era he grew up in.
I find it interesting that this book was released in 2011, way before society seemed to become mesmerised by the concept of the 80’, years before the introduction of shows like ‘Stranger Things’. The plot is intricate yet understandable, even for a non-gamer like me, but what really impresses me is his use of structure. In a way he makes the book itself take the form of a video game, not just in the fact that there are three parts, entitled ‘Levels’. I mean in the way he delivers dialogue and key points within the story, it is abrupt, the readers feelings are made to mirror that of the avatar’s…we are on edge the whole time almost as we are scared that the next page will transform into a bright screen with the words ‘Game Over’ etched into the middle. On top of all this, the characters are meaningful, they aren’t just the throwaway avatars we are envisioning. The love story running throughout doesn’t make us cringe, it is fitting and poignant, human connection clearly hasn’t been lost completely, even within the confinements of a virtual reality. He touches on diversity, acceptance, sexuality, race, gender…it’s not just a game, it’s a message, telling us that no matter what happens or what life throws at us, we still have a choice between right and wrong.
This book started as a mere title on the ‘possibility’ section within my reading list and ended as one of my favourite books in recent years, defiantly racing to the top of the scoreboard just like Wade Watts. Some aspects reminded me of a contemporary version of George Orwell’s ‘1984’; at times it was as if I had fallen through a portal into Steven Spielberg’s brain. It also made me feel as if I was stepping back into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James Halliday is the very man Willy Wonka would have morphed into if catapulted into a modern technological world. Despite these astonishing comparisons, the book still stands strong on its own, basking in the glory of its own legacy…welcoming anyone who wants to enter, ready player one.