Friday, 24 July 2015

'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

'Growing up as a human being on the planet Earth in the twenty-first century was a real kick in the teeth. Existentially speaking.'

It's not often that I read a book and intuitively know that it's just become one of my favourite books of all time, but I had that realisation with 'Ready Player One'.
If you haven't heard of this book, I'll be extremely surprised - it's received rave reviews, and Steven Spielberg has already signed on for the movie adaptation that's in the works. I've had my eye on 'Ready Player One' for nearly a year now, but I just hadn't found the motivation to pick it up; the blurb was extremely vague so I had no idea what I was expecting from this one. In actuality, the story was much more engrossing and unique than I ever could have imagined. I'm going to give a brief summary of the first fifty pages or so - it'll seem like a large summary, because it's a complex story! - but I'm going to keep the spoilers to a minimum, because this is a book that you really need to experience for the first time with an element of surprise behind it.
Set in America in 2045, this is a time when the world has almost completely gone to shit. Our protagonist, Wade Watts, lives in one of many stacks that have formed around the country - piles of camper vans and trailers one on top of the other, creating crude and dangerous apartment blocks and maximising the use of the space. Wade lives with his aunt and fifteen other people in their trailer, which is part of a stack of twenty-two mobile homes, reeking "of cat piss and abject poverty". As you can tell, this is not the most glamorous setting.
With the world struggling with an increase of prices of fuel and transport, most people have become sedentary beings living their entire lives in the OASIS - a fully immersive virtual reality simulation. In the OASIS, people can act as though they have no problems, and they can be anyone that they want to be, meaning it's the ideal form of escapism.
When the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he leaves behind a billion dollar inheritance with no heir to receive it. Because he was such a huge fan of video games, he used the opportunity to create the most extreme Easter egg hunt ever. In the OASIS, James hides three keys and three gates. Whichever user can find all three keys and clear all three gates first wins - the winner receives his inheritance and complete ownership of Gregarious Simulation Systems, the company that James owned and thereby the owners of OASIS.
Wade has had a pretty terrible life up until this point; both of his parents are dead, and his aunt cares more about finding her next fix than she cares about him. So when the competition gets announced Wade quickly dedicates his entire life to studying James Halliday and his likes and dislikes - including his obsessive compulsive fandom for all things 1980's.
I think one of the main reasons I love this novel is because of Ernest Cline's writing style. There is nothing about this book that I don't like - the descriptions are flawless, the characters are brilliant and the plot is so obvious yet so genius.
The setting is described impeccably and is utterly realistic - it's only thirty years away, but because the decline of civilisation is so easy to comprehend it's spine-chillingly possible that this could be the vision we grow accustomed to. The real world, and the OASIS world, are vibrantly crafted and are all so highly individual from each other - from Wade's trailer to his hide-out, from Ludus, the school planet, to Archaide, the gaming museum planet, they all have their own feelings and it's impossible to get two of the places confused because they all stand out.
This is the same with the characters. Because we spend so much time in Wade's head, it really feels as though we know him by the end of the novel, but his online friends Aech, Shoto, Daito and Art3mis are all three-dimensional and brilliantly rendered too. Normally, if there is a medium-sized group of characters (more than three, less than ten) there are characters that I really feel could be weeded out from the story without making any difference, but all of them are so vital to the furthering of Wade's quest. The joking, brotherly nature of Aech and Wade's friendship had me cracking up at every turn, while the aloof and mysterious Art3mis kept me guessing about her true character right up until the end.
The dialogue was also hilarious, having me laughing out loud at more than one point during my reading. During Wade and Art3mis's first meeting ('"I'm seeing flying ostriches in my sleep!" "That can't be pleasant."') and during an argument with a n00b towards the beginning of the novel ("If I didn't spend so much time offline, getting laid, I'd probably know just as much worthless shit as you two do.") it all really played to my sense of humour, which is another fabulous aspect of this novel.
I think the appeal with 'Ready Player One' is the fact that it's such a simple premise, but no one had thought to do it before. Gamers the world over have been obsessed with finding Easter eggs in games, and yet this is the first book I've ever read that focused on that single-minded obsessive nature and combining it with the standard quest plot. With the good vs. evil in the form of the ordinary people players vs. the Sixers - part of an elite corporation determined to cheat the OASIS and use it for monetary game - it means that there's an incentive to get behind Wade and his friends. I don't know if it's just me, but watching the typical, ordinary person on their struggle to save the world might be overdone, but it's still comforting; at least it's not me in that situation!
This is a highly accessible book - I'm not a massive gamer (you can find me whiling my time away on Tetris, but I don't think that counts...) but it's very easy to enjoy this book anyway, and I could visualise a lot more of the goings on than I'd expected to be able to. If you feel put off because you just don't play video games, or know a lot about them, don't let it scare you - you'll learn enough to feel like an expert, and with games from Joust to Pacman playing vital roles in the plot, even the most inexperienced gamer will feel involved in some aspect.
Another thing that surprised me was how un-daunting the constant '80's references were. I was born in the '90's, and I've never really had that much of an obsession (or an interest) in '80's entertainment or music, so I thought a lot of the references were going to go straight over my head. However, because a lot of the mentions were just in passing it meant that I didn't feel as though I was getting lost. It's also given me a great excuse to watch a lot of movies and TV shows to get more into the mindset of the characters - and I've had a blast collating a pinterest board with some of the things that Wade mentions in the story. If you were born in the '80's, or before the '80's, you'll definitely appreciate this novel - it might even remind you of some things that you'd forgotten from a previous time in your life.
I would highly recommend this story to anyone; in fact, there's just nothing bad for me to say about it. In fact, my only complaint is that it's not fair that this is a standalone novel! Too many books get dragged out and become stale by the end of a companion novel or trilogy, but with Ernest Cline's witty writing style and so many aspects of the world that hadn't been explored, I would have happily read another book based in the 'Ready Player One' universe.
Ernest Cline's second novel, 'Armada' was released last week, and I am going to get my grubby hands on a copy as soon as possible, so keep a look out over the coming weeks!

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