Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Published: August 16, 2011
Publisher: Random House
Audiobook Narrator: Wil Wheaton
The hype is real, and it is earned.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect with Ready Player One. When the novel came out, it garnered a lot of buzz, and the general consensus, as I saw it, was overwhelmingly positive. This is why I decided to spend an Audible credit on the Audiobook, narrated by Wil Wheaton.
Then the film came out, and the response was much more mixed than the novel. Within my small circle of friends, one might even say that the consensus was negative. I let this response cloud my judgement, and it had me pushing off the book for fear of not enjoying it as much as I’d hoped. I enjoy ‘80s films and video games like any good geeky gamer and film lover, but I was afraid it would be too gimmicky, and would result in a negative experience.
Fortunately, I was an idiot, and completely wrong. I absolutely loved everything about this wonderful story. The characters are engaging and charismatic. The OASIS is essentially a gamer’s dream come true, giving a whole new meaning to the idea of “virtual reality”. It’s a love letter to the media that was berthed in the 1980s (and the late ‘70s as well), with the main character forcing himself to become obsessed with the music, movies, video games, and literature of the decade, and the loving, passionate way in which Cline writes about it can make even Supaidâman sound binge-worthy!
In Ready Player One, we follow Wade Watts as he attempts to become the first person to find an Easter egg left in the OASIS by its recently deceased creator, James Halliday. Whoever finds this Easter egg first will become a multi-billionaire – with a “b” – as they’ll inherit Halliday’s massive fortune. Taking advantage of the fact that there are essentially no rules to this hunt, a massive corporation known as Innovative Online Industries (IOI) has hired their own set of “gunters”, called the Sixers, to try and find the egg. They use their seemingly unlimited supply of cash to cheat their way through the game in hopes of monopolizing the OASIS for financial gain. Wade must use his vast knowledge of ‘80s pop culture to overcome the Sixers to prevent the corporation from destroying the OASIS.
Ready Player One is set in a dystopian 2040s, and in this world the OASIS is the only thing that most of the population has to keep them going. It’s literally their meal ticket, and their livelihood, meaning the planned takeover of the Oasis by IOI could turn this already depleted world into something much, much worse.
What caught my attention with Ready Player One was all the ‘80s pop culture references, but what really sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go was the depth of the relationships between the main characters. There are positive moral themes about friendship, loyalty, and love. The best part was how naturally all of these themes manifested, keeping a focus on fun, while still providing depth. This is exactly why I loved this book so much: the fact that I started caring so deeply about these characters really crept up on me. I didn’t realize how invested in them, and this whole insane world, I was until it was time to put the book down for the night. I didn’t want to stop. I thought about the book in between sessions, and felt compelled to pick it back up as soon as possible. Few books have ever given me this feeling, and that is a nod to Cline’s impeccable writing.
As I mentioned, I listened to the audiobook of Ready Player One, narrated by Wil Wheaton. I’ve often heard that Wheaton’s audiobook narration style is either a love him or hate him experience, and fortunately for me, I ended up loving him. When he wasn’t saying the word “poseur”, that is. Cline writes that word about three hundred times, give or take, in one chapter early on, and I was about to lose my mind hearing him repeat it over and over again. Of course I’m being dramatic, but that word did grate on me.
Other than that, Wheaton is just fantastic. Though he doesn’t use a lot of different voices like most audiobook narrators, I still had no issue telling the characters apart. He brings a wonderful passion to his characters that helped bring the story alive for me. He has quickly jumped to the top of my audiobook narrator list, and I’ll check out some other books by him simply because he narrates them.
Don’t be mistaken: Cline doesn’t just toss out a line with an ‘80s pop culture reference, and then move on to the real story at hand. Pop culture is the story. This media obsession is what drives the Easter egg hunt, these characters, and their relationships. There is depth not only to the characters, but the references, which makes it feel legitimate and not like a cheap pop to make the reader nostalgic. These references are necessary to move the story forward, inevitably meaning that they are essential to saving the world, in one way or another. As a media nut who spends the majority of his free time obsessing over movies, video games, books, comics, and music – in a word, media – I felt right at home.
Ready Player One has leapt into my favorites list, and anyone that shares my similar interests should absolutely give it a shot. Don’t let any negativity surrounding the film turn you away like I did. There’s so much to enjoy here, I can’t imagine anyone with a similar mindset not having a good time.