Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ran across some reviews of Cline's book online a while back, and placed it on hold at the library, as it sounded like fun. I have to say, this book is definitely the middle-aged geek's dream - filled with gaming trivia, old science fiction and fantasy movie memories, and 80s pop music icons. In a rather dystopic future, the  majority of the world population has retreated into OASIS a massively multiplayer online multi-world environment created by an obsessed genius, James Halliday. When he died some years before this story takes place, he reveals that he has created an "egg" within the game, and that the person who finds it will be the heir to his $260 billion fortune. Many have tried to find the treasure since then - they are known as "gunters" -  from "egg hunters", but none have succeeded.

I feel like Cline took the lazy road to creating the environment for Ready Player One. Rather than create a detailed world of his own imagining, he decided to steal a page from the environmental movements' playbook and merely regurgitate the party line. The world is collapsing because of anthropogenic climate change, causing major disasters and poverty, and our ravenous use of energy has finally left us in a world with major shortages.

"Our global civilization came at a huge cost. We needed a whole bunch of energy to build it, and we got that energy by burning fossil fuels, which came from dead plants and animals buried deep in the ground. We used up most of this fuel before you got here, and now it's pretty much all gone. This means that we no longer have enough energy to keep our civilization running like it was before. So we've had to cut back. Big-time. We call this the Global Energy Crisis, and it's been going on for a while now.
Also, it turns out that burning all of those fossil fuels had some nasty side effects, like raising the temperature of our planet and screwing up the environment. So now the polar ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, and the weather is all messed up. Plants and animals are dying off in record numbers, and lots of people are starving and homeless. And we're still fighting wars with each other, mostly over the few resources we have left."

Sounds like something cribbed from a junior high geosciences textbook, almost.

Another mildly annoying liberal "meme" Cline uses is the idea of an evil corporation, IOI, whose only goal is profit through domination of the OASIS system. They're so evil, in fact, that when the hero of the book defies them, they blow up his family's home in a trailer park, attempting to murder him. Later, they throw another gamer out the window of his high rise apart ment to keep him from beating them in the quest for the next key to reach the treasure - wouldn't it have been simpler just to cut the power to his gaming console? Well, I guess Cline wants us to know that these bad guys are really bad, not just "mostly bad".

One little oddity about the evil corporation, when Wade goes undercover as an indentured employee for them.
"At the next station, a bank of machines gave me a complete physical, including a battery of blood tests. (Luckily the Genetic Privacy Act made it illegal for IOI to sample my DNA.)"

If they were willing to kill someone to get their way, would a law against DNA sampling stop them from doing it?

Other than those minor quibbles, Cline does a pretty good job of telling an interesting and entertaining yarn, told from the point of view of a sixteen year old gunter named Wade. Wade and his best friend Aech, along with girl gunter, Art3mis, and a couple of Japanese adventurers, Shoto and Daito, are trying to find the egg hidden by Halliday before the legions of corporate clones do.

Possibly the best thing about this book is that, for those of us who came of age in the 80s, nearly every page is filled with one of those "Hey, I remember that!" moments, from the movie War Games, starring Matthew Broderick, to the music of Rush, with leader Neal Pert on the 2112 album, to classic video games like Zork, Joust and Tempest. The "puzzles" that they have to solve aren't all that complicated, the key to finding the keys is understanding what '80s references the riddles refer to.

The technological aspects of the gaming universe called OASIS are very richly imagined, and the whole concept of a MASSIVELY multiplayer game plays well. Nothing deep here, just a great trip down memory lane for middle-aged geeks.


Unknown said...

My thoughts exactly. Not particularly deep or inventive, and a little too YA for my tastes, but a great nostalgia trip. I guess it's my middle aged geek showing, but every time I came across some historical nugget from my childhood, I just had to keep reading.

Loni said...

I keep reading mixed reviews. I'm not sure I'll actually pick this one up. Maybe if it's on sale...