Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One: A Novel
Classification: Young Adult Fiction
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: Paberback, 384 pages
Publisher: Broadway (June 5, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0307887448
ISBN-13: 978-0307887443
Author's Website:

"Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest."

James Halliday, the creator and designer of the world's most successful and largest interactive multi player virtual reality video game, the OASIS, died leaving no heirs and a massive fortune to be won. At the time of the contest's announcement, the world was in a state of ruin. An ongoing energy crisis paired with catastrophic climate change triggered widespread famine, poverty, and disease. Wars had been fought, won, and lost. People without much left to do had retreated sometimes wholeheartedly into the OASIS virtual video world feeling virtuality was a might better than the reality they faced in their every day-to-day lives. The contest was announced via a "meticulously constructed short film titled Anorak's Invitation." The video message which lasted just over 5 minutes "was crammed with obscure '80s pop culture references."

"My entire estate, including a controlling share of stock in my company, Gregarious Simulation Systems, is to be placed in escrow until such time as a single condition I have set forth in my will is met. The first individual to meet that condition will inherit my entire fortune, currently valued in excess of two hundred and forty billion dollars."

That condition was inspired by Halliday's favorite video game when he was a child, Adventure, created for the Atari 2600 which incidentally was the first videogame system he ever owned. Warren Robinette, the game's creator, was given no credit for creating the game which was a common occurrence at the time. So Warren hid his name within the game itself. He created a key and if you found it you could use it to gain access to a secret room which held Warren's name. It became known as the first videogame Easter egg. The game was shipped without the manufacture's knowledge of the hidden Easter egg. In fact, Atari "didn't find out about the Easter egg's existence until a few months later, when kids all over the world began to discover it." Halliday had been one of those kids, and it had been one of the coolest video experiences of his life. So he decided to share the experience...

"Before I died, I created my own Easter egg, and hid it somewhere inside my most popular video game--the OASIS. The first person to find my Easter egg will inherit my entire fortune."

After Five long years of searching, the Copper key, the first of three, was finally discovered by Wade Watts and this is his story of what happened.


So I confess I really wasn't the happiest of campers when this book won our Goodreads online book club's Anything Goes category for Book of the Month. It didn't truly sound like something that would interest or entertain me. But I'm happy to say this was one of my favorite books that I read in 2012. It was creative, fun, made me laugh, made me think, had me reminiscing and utterly loving the story as it unfolded.

In some respects, this book reminded me a touch of a more grown up version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There are quite a few parallels between the two. Instead of a chocolate factory, a video game empire is up for grabs which will make the recipient rich. Both have challenges and obstacles to overcome in order to win the coveted prize. Both have a boy living in poverty who is the main focus of the book who proves himself to be exceptional among his peers. Plus, both stories have children, in this case teens, being the main contenders competing for the prize. Additionally, both have a huge corporation trying to find a way to gain access to the company. Now, I haven't found anything to suggest that the author, Ernest Cline, decided to create his own version of an old classic although he did mention in a video interview Halliday was an eccentric Willy Wonkaesque type character. However, if Ernest did attempt to rewrite an old classic, this is a brilliant example of how it's done. The similarities are subtle and the bulk of the story is unique, creative, and inventive.

Wade is a character I couldn't help but like. He's has a good heart and is a sweet guy. He is an orphan who was taken in by his aunt so she could confiscate his food vouchers. Luckily, Wade was a smart and crafty child who managed to make some money by repairing video game systems and assembling new ones from parts. Had it not been for his talent, he surely would have starved. He dropped out of his real school to join the virtual school which taught the sames things as a real world school but has one great advantage for a kid like Wade--there are no bullies. At least not the kind that can threaten someone who hasn't quite found where he fits in. Wade was able to join the school because of a scholarship he earned via his good grades. When the contest was announced, Wade decided early on to make it his mission to find the hidden egg. Even though he's smart, he wouldn't be able to afford to go to college and without a college education his future job prospects are pretty grim and his money making opportunities are greatly limited.

Another aspect I liked about the book was how it was set up like a video game. It's divided up into levels mimicking the contest which itself is a game. Each chapter is designated by a four digit number which reminded me of the numbers displayed on a game for points. For example, chapter one is headed by 0001, while chapter 36 is denoted at the chapter head as 0036.  So while I read, I felt like I was accumulating points as I read which seemed to draw me even more into the book. As I always say, it's the little things in books that can mean a lot, and attention to detail that can tip a book over in favor from a good book to a great read. This book has a lot of that.

Ernest Cline's world building in this book is phenomenal. I love his explanation for the mess the world was in. It has the trappings of a dystopian novel as well as a work of science fiction. I loved his depiction of the stacks in his "real" world. Stacks is the term designated for the trailers and mobile homes which are literally stacked on top of each other to provide more room for people to live. If you look at my favorite cover for the book you can see the artists' renditions of them:

I also loved Cline's depiction of the OASIS' virtual world which tickled my inner child and made me wish that there truly was such a game in existence that I could explore and play within...
"In the OASIS, you could become whomever and whatever you wanted to be, without ever revealing your true identity, because your anonymity was guaranteed.

Users could also alter the content of their virtual worlds inside the OASIS, or create entirely new ones. A person's online presence was no longer limited to what website or a social-networking profile. In the OASIS, you could create your own private planet, build a virtual mansion on it, furnish and decorate it however you liked , and invite a few thousand friends over for a party. And those fiends could be in a dozen different time zones, spread all over the globe."

The book also has an underlying message. At the beginning of the book Wade states, "Luckily, I had access to the OASIS, which was like having an escape hatch into a better reality. The Oasis kept me sane. It was my playground and my preschool, a magical place where anything was possible."  Later he says, "We're gunters. We live here, in the OASIS. For us, this is the only reality that has any meaning." The majority of people who accessed the OASIS used it as a crutch to escape from reality, and at times it was rather disturbing just how addicted and immersed in the game some of the players become. Toward the end, one of the main characters concludes, "As terrifying and painful as reality can be, it's also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real."

Why is the book titled Ready Player One? Well I believe because of this:

Identity verification successful. 
Welcome to the Oasis, Parzival!
Login Completed: 07:53:21 OST-2.10.2045

As the text faded away, it was replaced by a short message, just three words long. This message had been embedded in the log-in sequence by James Halliday himself, when he'd first programmed the Oasis, as an homage to the simulation's direct ancestors, the coin-operated video games of his youth. These three words were always the last thing an OASIS user saw before leaving the real world and entering the virtual one:
Ready Player One

Overall, I gave this one 5 out of 5 roses. I loved all the references to the '80s pop culture which included references to videogames such as Galaga, Pacman and Joust. It included references to '80s Movies such as War Games, Monty Python's Holy Grail and Heathers. It also included music references to songs like  Dead Man's Party, Rebel Yell,  We Can Dance If We Want To and Blue Monday. Additionally, I loved the secondary characters such as Wade's love interest Art3mis and his best friend Aech. I also loved all the challenges and obstacles Wade had to overcome. Ernest Cline has a wickedly awesome imagination. So if you haven't read the book I HIGHLY encourage you to pick it up and read it. Just be prepared for a fun ride. There is plenty of drama, twists and turns to keep you on your toes. If you're interested in checking out my Goodreads group's discussion of Ready Player One, Click Here.

Notes to keep you in the know:
One of my co-moderator, Mary, found the following: According to Wikipedia, "Ten months after the first edition release, Cline revealed on his blog that Ready Player One itself contained an elaborately hidden Easter egg. This clue would form the first part of a series of staged video gaming tests, similar to the plot of the novel. Cline also revealed that the competition's grand prize would be a DeLorean. The game Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale by Austin based developer Portalarium was featured in one part of the contest."

"The contest's final stage was announced on August 1, and was to set a world record on one of several classic arcade or Atari 2600 games. This was completed on August 9 by Craig Queen, who set a new world record in Joust. He was awarded his DeLorean on the TV show X-play." To see the full post, Click Here.

Additionally, check out this video I found of G4TV which includes an interview with Ernest and which displays the winner of the DeLorean. To see the full G4TV post Click Here.

1 comment:

  1. I love when I read a book I'm really unsure about and reluctant to read and I end up enjoying it much to my surprise. Great review, I'm going to have to read this one!
    -Kimberly @ Turning the Pages


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