Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable. – Anorak’s Almanac, Chapter 91, Verses 1 – 2

Actually, for me, being human doesn’t suck and yet I fully sympathise with the feeling that videogames do add to life – always provided we can agree that books count as well.

This book, in fact, made me smile a lot and remember a lot of things from my childhood and youth – during the 80ties which feature more than prominently in this wonderful geeky, nerdy story.

I’m three years younger than Cline but it seems we share a lot of experiences and, maybe, some notions about life:

So now you have to live the rest of your life knowing you’re going to die someday and disappear forever. “Sorry.”

This, Cline says, might be one way to summarise what life is about and how it ends. It’s certainly a very sobering way of expressing it. Nevertheless, it’s true.

In 1979 in the hilarious “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” Eric Idle already sang “Life’s a piece of shit / When you look at it” and that’s pretty much the situation in which our hero, Wade Watts, finds himself: Living in 2045 on an Earth that has been devastated by climate-change, wars for resources, with his parents dead, he’s a loner.

Wade lives with his unloving aunt in her trailer but mostly stays out of her way in his hideout, hidden away in OASIS, an immersive virtual reality simulation that let’s its users escape from the harsh reality. By heart, Wade is an egg hunter, a “gunter”, who is searching for the Easter Egg in OASIS the finder of will inherits the entire wealth of OASIS’ founder.

“Ready Player One” tells the story of the hunt for that egg and the inheritance.

The entire book is full of references to the 80ties and I’ve had so many “WTF” moments, e. g. when Cline mentions FidoNet (in its time the largest private pre-internet network) – of which I had the honour to be a member (2:2437/209 and others) of for more than a decade.

For me, the book exactly hits its mark because of the many “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” moments: I’ve played most of the games, watched most of the films and have heard most of the music. Cline obviously knows his target audience very, very well, even quoting the right role models:

I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal. – Groucho Marx

I even felt like the author describes feeling at times and, I guess, that’s why this book made such an impression on me – I felt at home, it felt like the book was written for me.

Of course, we tend to whitewash our childhood, gloss over the rough patches we all went through. Maybe that’s why I like this book as much as I do and maybe I’m being played here but if that’s the case I’m going along willingly because everything feels so right.

I’d totally be a “gunter” in the scenario presented here, I’d certainly loathe the evil mega corporation and I’d love to be Wade.

I’m writing this review on Linux in text-mode (-nw) Emacs (not vile vim!) running in a Konsole (not a typo!) window with zsh; right after reading the book on a jail-broken Kindle. If you understood that, you’re my brother (or sister, for that matter!) and I guarantee you’ll enjoy this book.

If not, well, I’m not sure… I’m not sure what today’s kids will think of this book unless they’re totally geeky and/or nerdy because my very own offspring doesn’t really know most of the games and films mentioned throughout the book. They might still enjoy it for the action and adventure, for the unbridled joy this book permeates despite the dystopic setting.

At its heart, “Ready Player One” is more than a glorification of the “good old times” (which the author knows full well weren’t that great) or one of the escapism OASIS allows for (the danger of which the author recognises very clearly as we see when he introduces a certain “device” at the very end).

It’s a story of survival in spite of the odds, of true friendship beyond the confines of gender or skin colour:

I understood her, trusted her, and loved her as a dear friend. None of that had changed, or could be changed by anything as inconsequential as her gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation.

It’s a story of finding love and a bit of coming-of-age. And for me, it’s an instant classic (totally awesome stuff!) that’s going right into my “Favourites” shelf!

P. S.: “I’d heard all the clichéd warnings about the perils of falling for someone you only knew online, but I ignored them.”, says Wade at one point.

I did, too. I’ve now been married to her (in the real world!) for about 20 years and she’s hopefully still reading my reviews. 🙂

I love you, C.

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2 thoughts on “Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

  1. Not that you asked for my opinion but, you allow comments, sooo:

    At its heart, “Ready Player One” is more than a glorification of the “good old times”. I completely agree. And yes been there, done that and Cline knows his target.

    But sometimes I felt strongly that he does not understand internet relations. Like when the characters feel awkward because they address themselves by their nicknames in real life. We are talking about a future where almost everything is based on Oasis. And that is awkward? Cline has never attended a lanparty / meeting. Your nick, your handle is the one you’ve chosen.

    1. Hey, Aldraia, that was a nice surprise – please feel *invited* to share your thoughts!

      As for your gripe: Well, remember that Cline is in his late forties – he might indeed never have visited a LAN party at times when people are primarily using nicknames. In his – and mine – youth, you went by your real name on the net (which was pretty much Usenet and email at the time) or would be shunned.

      Thus, using nicknames in “real life” would be awkward for me as well – if we met, I’d give a good shot at pronouncing your real first name, apologize and ask you to help me pronounce it properly. And now imagine you addressing me with my IRC nickname – seriously? 😉

      Best regards, Wulf

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