Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Book Shelf: Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline

Since it first debuted in 2012 Ready Player One: A Novel has been garnering a lot of praise not only from traditional literary reviews but from sectors that don't typically review many books (like gaming websites). As a result of all the positive press I went into this novel with high expectations and with a fair bit of trepidation.

The novel starts out quickly and then almost immediately drops into a nihilistic bent that nearly made me put the book down. This turn comes as a result of the world the book is couched in, a possible future where things have gone completely over the edge. Traditional fossil fuels have finally run out and as a result people have over crowded the cities leaving their cars to rot behind them when they ran out of gas. In a lot of ways it feels like the worst predictions of our potential future coming home to roost. But then there's the game.

The game, OASIS, is a massive, online game that players encounter through a sophisticated virtual reality world that far exceeds anything we have today but that is nonetheless plausible. It's in the OASIS simulation that most of the book's action takes place. These segments in the OASIS are often exhilarating moments filled with intrigue and intense action. Cline brilliantly uses the depressing and dull real world that the main protagonist, Wade Watts, lives in as a counter part to the more vibrant, virtual reality that dominates much of the story to pace the action and steadily lull the reader into a false sense of security where it's all just a game. Wade isn't in any real danger - that is until events cross over and his actual death becomes an imminent possibility.

The story of Ready Player One: A Novel is propelled forward by a treasure hunt within the OASIS for the greatest prize imaginable. It's creator has left a multibillion dollar prize, and control of his company, for whoever can solve his puzzles and complete the challenges within the game. Cline's tight writing excels at making the moments of discovery within the game feel exciting and his pacing throughout the novel is fantastic.

I won't lie, though, I struggled to get through the first thirty or so pages as the bleak world picture that Cline created felt like an oppressive weight pressing down on me; but just when things felt like they were becoming too much he picked up the pace and the whole book changed. It became a fast read that I had trouble putting down at times as I wracked my own memory trying to solve the puzzles and held my breath hoping that Wade would make it through the next scene without dying and losing everything.

In the end the novel surpassed my expectations and made me a huge fan of Cline's writing. This book deserves every bit of praise it has received and more. Pick it up if you have the opportunity and you won't be disappointed.

From the back of the book: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines - puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win - and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.


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