Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is a weird book because the more I think about it, the less I like it. When I was reading it I was really entertained and I was enjoying it, so much so that I gave it a five-star review on Goodreads. Then later that week I dropped it to a four. A week later I dropped it to a three. It may keep dropping.

The problem with Ready Player One is that it is a basically generic heroes journey book set in a weird little world. As most of you know, this book is saturated with pop culture references, which I did not mind at first. But eventually it became almost frustrating with how blatant the references were. Wade flies a Firefly-class starship. Do you remember the show Firefly?! REMEMBER HOW MUCH YOU LIKED IT! It was like Ernest Cline was expecting his audience to think that he was much cooler than he was because he knew all of these references. And that can get really frustrating. Compounding on that frustrating is that much of Ready Player One is set in video games and movies that already existed. Sure, you could call that Post-modern or whatever, but for me I found myself thinking that Cline was lazy.

I was also not a huge fan of the characters at all. They are all one-dimensional and never seem to feel human emotions. Which I get might be the point, that they have lost themselves in this video game, but it is hard to root for characters whose motivations are impossible to discern. This is really bothersome with the main character Wade. He learns all this awesome 80s trivia, basically consuming all the pop culture of the decade. But we never learn what it means to him. Cline just has him learning all the trivia to win money, not for an real love of the subject. Wade might like it because he definitely has preferences, but we never get to see what the pop culture means to him. Why do John Hughes movies appeal to us? Why did Duran Duran get so popular? What made the first video games so special? If those things had been put into the book, it would have actually been a love letter to the 80s, instead all that wonderful pop culture was reduced to trivial detritus to be memorized. It seems as though Cline himself is unable to understand what makes 80s pop culture good, and thus anything substantial that could have been said about the movies or music is missing. What Ready Player One could have been was completely wasted.

Now, this is not to say that I hate the book. I would give it two stars, but I was really entertained by it so I guess it gets points for that. Cline also deserves credit for the OASIS ideas, which were genuinely clever and interesting. The parts describing OASIS were my favorite. However, for me it represents a lot of what is wrong with mainstream “nerd” culture and at the end I felt like I had spent too much time reading /r/iamverysmart submissions of people who feel like they have a superior understanding of pop culture due to the volume they consume. You know, the people who think that you can’t accurately appreciate Firefly if you don’t know all the Chinese swears. Actually, check out that subreddit. The people whose statuses and stuff get posted are the type that love Ready Player One and think it is a masterpiece. For the rest of us, it is like candy. Fun at the time, but not overly filling and ultimately a frustrating missed opportunity.

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