Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
By: Ernest Cline
Published by: Broadway Books
Audiobook published by: Random House Audio
Publication date: August 16, 2011
Pages: 384
Buy it at Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

Ready Player One is, to quote a friend on Goodreads, “like The Last Starfighter meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Luckily, I think this is a comparison Ernest Cline wouldn’t mind so much – especially the Last Starfighter part – since his novel is set inside a participative, virtual reality video game, accompanied by hundreds of 1980’s pop culture references. And even though this futuristic, dystopian, geek-culture-celebrating novel isn’t my usual read, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And frankly, any author who can successfully reference Heathers and pretty much every John Hughes movie ever made in just their prologue, gets an automatic thumbs up from me.

In Ready Player One, Wonka’s golden ticket is replaced with an Easter egg hidden deep within the intricately programmed world of the virtual reality OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) that James Halliday, who I envision as something of a Howard Hughes-Steve Jobs mash-up, designed before his death. And high school senior Wade Watts is the guy who’s going to find that Easter egg with his encyclopedic knowledge of all things 1980’s (Halliday’s favorite decade). Wade attends school in the OASIS, has a best friend he’s never met in person, and a crush on an avatar who he knows only through her blog. (It might sound like sci-fi, but it’s not that far from reality for us, even now.)

 The quest has a series of keys and gates that Wade and his fellow gunters (video game/Easter egg hunters) have to solve, starting with riddles like this one:

Three hidden keys open three secret gates

Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits
And those with the skill to survive these straits
Will reach The End where the prize awaits

 And so begins our journey.

I can’t really address much about the plot because it will give away important parts of the story, and this novel can largely thank the suspense Cline creates and the quest to find the egg for it’s appeal. Well, that and the sometimes obscure, and I mean OB-SCURE, 80’s trivia Cline throws onto every page. If I’m honest, the 80’s references got tiresome. REALLY TIRESOME – as in, I thought about putting down the book at one point tiresome. And it wasn’t because I‘m not a gamer or was only 4 years old when the decade began. It was because the constant barrage of 80’s citations (“‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ by Def Leppard, off their Hysteria album (Epic Records, 1987)” and “JOUST. Williams Electronics, 1982” and “Oingo Boingo, ‘Dead Man’s Party,’ MCA Records, 1985” and “Johnny Five from the 1986 film Short Circuit”) begin to seem like an underdeveloped and bothersome character in an otherwise outstanding novel. But each time I thought about giving up, something happened plot-wise that pulled me back into the novel. And I’m so glad it did!

 Ready Player One is an oddly paced (frenetic at times, languid at others) ride through heaps of 80’s movies, music, and TV and video game terminology. But even for this non-gamer, it was a story I wanted to see through to the end and a world I couldn’t wait to return to time and time again. The ending itself seemed rushed, when everything else was developed and developed and developed through out the entire story. But I’m finding that I’m usually not satisfied with the endings of most of the novels I read these days, so it may just be me. :)

Final Word: An interesting story and a new take on the traditional dystopian novel. As long as you can get past not recognizing some/most of the allusions and video game references (and I did, with ease), you’ll enjoy this read.

Summary via Goodreads:
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.


  1. Oh, man, I loved this one. But, I was in college in the 80s, so I had a connection. Although, even I didn't get all the references -- there ARE a lot of them. I insisted my husband read it because I knew he would love it. He WAS a gamer, and really into music, and LOVES movies. So, he is almost finished with it and also really loved it. Great review!

  2. What an awesome unique concept! It's such a wonderful way of tackling a techie story, but I love how it's also part mystery in the quest to find the next part of the game, and I love how there are references to awesome movies and games!

    Lovely review :)


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