Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review - Ernest Cline's Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Published by: Broadway Books
Publication Date: August 16th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

James Halliday is the creator of the OASIS. In all immersive MMO that allows everyone on Earth to escape the horrors of what has become of the world in the near future and go to school, party, or just explore and level their avatar. Halliday was the biggest geek there was and he wanted his passions to be your passions, and his main passion was the 1980s, the time when he was a teenager. When he died he left no heirs and created a treasure hunt within the OASIS to decide who would be worthy of being his successor. His Willy Wonka test was neigh on indecipherable with a little video he made which ended up being nicknamed Anorak's Invitation, after his Avatar, Anorak. Soon a culture of hunters, called gunters, form with the sole purpose of memorizing the minutiae of Halliday and the 80s and finding Halliday's fortune.

Wade Watts is a gunter with the handle Parzival. He has spent five years of his life learning everything there is to know about James Halliday. For five long years no one has made the least bit of headway with the quest until Parzival stumbles on the answer while sitting in his virtual classroom. Within hours two people have passed through the first of three gates that lead to Halliday's egg. It soon becomes clear to Parzival that this is going to end sooner then anyone thought, with more dangers then he could imagine. Now that the first hurtle is passed, it won't be long before things come to a head. While Parzival has troubles trusting the other gunters he's come to view as his friends, the real danger is IOI, a rival organization who wants to win the game, not to win, but to control the OASIS.

As many people have started their review with "this book was written just for my generation and me in particular," well, I figure, I will reiterate that sentiment. Yes, this book was written for me. I was born in 1978, so a little younger then Halliday, and Cline himself, but of the same generation, so to speak. I will not go on and then say that this book is just wonderful and marvelous and just spoke to me, because, well, it just didn't. You know, it actually kind of enrages me that this book is so well regarded and lauded. It isn't the book itself you can be in love with, it just can't be, with it's bland prose riddled with errors, and it's dry clinical writing style, making it almost like a history book, though written by someone with an ego who is very self impressed that they have all this knowledge at their fingertips.

You're in love with the memories this book evokes, the connection it forges using emotional cues from your past. You say "Pac-Man" and I'm a little kid again down at the Brat and Brau feeding quarters into their "Ms. Pac-Man" machine in the few spare minutes I had before the food arrived and my grandmother started piling the A-1 on her dinner. That dark and dingy little restaurant that had the cliched wooden panelling that my basement had and made the restaurant part rathskeller, part sports bar. Side note, I didn't need to read a whole chapter on every level of "Pac-Man" and how the final screen is only half there, I knew that, move on. Cline has taped into the zeitgeist of an era and has just info dumped on us, using touchstones like the Whedonverse to make little geeks and wannabes sqwee with joy. There is nothing that it makes me think of more then the episode of Community "Regional Holiday Music" which they did as a skewering of Glee. One of the songs, to entice Pierce to enter into the singing spirit, was called "Baby Boomer Santa." As Annie said in the episode "Pierce, they're just trying to pander to your demographics documented historical vanity. Resist!" The song is nothing more then a list of things that would appeal to Pierce, from Coca-Cola to The Beatles, Woodstock to Vietnam. This is what Ready Player One does! It just lists things from the 80s that we connect to from Galaga to WarGames and all the hipsters and 80s geeks and everyone is sucked in. To that I echo Annie Edison! RESIST!

This info dump mentality makes the book like the carrion of literature displaying the largest lack of imagination I have seen in a book. Ready Player One is part Willy Wonka, part Ender's Game with John Hughes doing the adaptation. I defy you to find something actually original in this book. All the humor and originality is directly lifted from other sources. Why is the final battle Parzival faces so funny? Because he's in Monty Python and the Holy Grail! The entire action, the entire everything is Monty Python's genius, NOT Ernest Cline's! This happens again and again throughout the book. And then there's Halliday and Morrow. Let's talk about James Halliday and Ogden Morrow, or as they really are, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Even if Cline hadn't laboriously pointed that the "fictitious characters" had been compared to these two real men, there is no grey area here. They are 100% these two men. Halliday even dies! Add to that the fact that Ready Player One goes into Phone Phreaking a lot, and Wozniak was part of this phenomenon, and they just get more and more similar. Then, in the, really, you really had to do that, bash my head against the wall, make me want to light the book on fire, there's the fact that the Wozniak character, Ogden, had the nickname Og, like Wozniak with Woz. Seriously? I mean seriously? It's not funny, it's a joke that is flat. Also, let's keep in mind that everyone knows that Woz is the one who was more, how shall I say, fun and relaxed of the two, so he wouldn't be litigious, even though he's spinning tunes as a DJ in a glass bubble before shooting lightning out of his fingers (yes, this seriously happens, and if it was me, I'd have my lawyer on speed dial). This is just degrading to me and in my mind to him, a man I very much admire. Sure he was on Dancing with the Stars, but you know what, he had a choice in that. I have a strong feeling, that while Halliday is never depicted negatively, if Jobs hadn't been on his deathbed, there might have been some serious legal action on this book.

If I where to just talk about Cline's writing, I would have to go back to the major flaw in this book in that Cline NEVER sticks to his own internal rules he has created. One minute there's never been a game like the WarGames simulation in the first gate, the next second Wade is on a date with Art3mis and they're in a Goonies rendition that is exactly like the simulation no one had ever thought of. When he's getting ready to clear the first gate, it's a Thursday night, clearly stated as Thursday, because he says he only has one more day of school before the weekend. Because of clearing the gate he sleeps through school, but then gets up bright and early the next day and goes to school... on a Saturday? Then the stupid Fyndoro whatever can only be used once in 24 hours, and then they use it like 6 hours later? Um, if you're going to phone in half your book by ripping other, better, people off, the least, the very very least you could do is get your own writing right. To step further away from all the things that are like or ripped off from other sources, let's talk about the part of the book that is Cline's. It's like he doesn't know what he wants his world to be. Is it dystopian, well yes, but then he drastically shifts away from this interesting study of the poor Wade and his living in "the stacks" and goes 180 and it becomes about this "affluent" kid that Wade has become, lured by the gadgets money has bought him. Which takes the soul out of the book. And then it just becomes the typical "Big Brother" story about a company trying to take control of the OASIS at any cost, deaths allowed. So, now the book is a thriller with corporate espionage? Really, Cline, you needed to keep a similar feel and a through line through this book. Instead you made Wade a douche and then I almost wanted the bad guys to win. And in the end, what was the moral? Stop playing games and get a real life? Because, Halliday just had these gunters waste SIX YEARS of their lives to learn that lesson. Douche Halliday. Also, you kind of made me never want to go near a computer again. And what fantasy world is this where a company would actually keep your information private, cause it's not ours? Now that is pure fiction.

To finalize what I refer to now as my ranty rant. There are just so many books and movies and music that Cline has mined, all of which are more original and better, so just go and give credit to the original, not the wannabe. Also, if you want something that actually captures the feeling I think Cline was aiming for, go read or watch Scott Pilgrim. As I read in another review among those fellow haters, I think Sissyneck on goodreads summed it up perfectly. "In a nice manifestation of the novel's lack of self-awareness, Cline at one point derides the villains of the book for simply using "Johnny 5" style robots from Short Circuit instead [of] coming up with their own design. This appropriation, he explains, demonstrates "a lack of imagination," a valid criticism that only too accurately applies to the ostensible heroes of the book, as well as to Cline himself." Right on Sissyneck! And here's a little Pierce Hawthrone to sing us out...


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