Published: August 2011
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Star Rating: 2.5
Series: First book in a companion series
Source: Own paperback, this read was via audiobook through library Overdrive account
This book is the first re-read for me for 2017. Ready Player One is a book that many, many people love, but I didn’t really like. However, it started my SciFi kick that has been ongoing for over a year now. Because of my mixed feelings on this book and because I love Wil Wheaton, I wanted to re-read this via audiobook to reassess my feelings on it.
In a quick summary: the book started out really great, I love the introduction into the world. For me it was unique, interesting and creative. However, over time things start building up that resulted in the same mixed to negative feelings about the book. To start with, the book quickly becomes infodumpy and feels more like a long string of 80s references and gaming culture explanations held together by a weak plot. Overall, I love the plot and it’s unique and interesting, but the execution of the plot leaves me wanting more and better. Then there are a bunch of characters I don’t really have any attachments to: the whiny cis white male teenager, but he’s poor and overweight so we are supposed to relate to him; his manic pixie dream girl, the ‘best friend’ who is better at the game then the main character but is relegated to a side-kick role and is also the Secret Diverse Character TM where the author wants credit for diversity that he didn’t actually write and for the diversity to be this big plot twist.
Going into a bit more detail, the writing was too long-winded and needed an editor to pare it back. For example, in the starting chapters there is this giant monologue spewing all the author’s life views (which I actually agree with) but was not needed to develop characterization which is how it’s framed. The second part of this novel really starts bringing in the pop culture references to the point were I felt like I was wading through a pool of them trying to find the story. It’s also at this point the story tries to out-cleaver itself which annoyed me. The book has a large number of inconsistencies that build up I could write an entire post just about them (and I’m seriously considering doing so). If more attention had been paid to staying in-world, to being consistent with the world he developed I would have been less annoyed. Finally, at least three different times there were very heavy-handed use of the deus ex machina trope to solve all the problems currently effecting the main characters.
Many of the inconsistencies also impact the worldbuilding. On the surface the world is unique and believable. I could really see us heading in that direction and the impact of an energy crisis and the solutions that were used to deal with the situations are creative and believable. It felt like how the world went could have really happened, with a touch of suspension of belief for having technology so good to be able to made it seem and feel real. The game as a distraction from the real world has parallels with the now (tv, video gaming), and it makes this book depressing when thought about in that sense. The book has deep themes to be looked at if you like that sort of thing in your books
However, going deeper into the world and OASIS things start to breakdown and I think it’s the contrast between the poor outside and the rich inside that do not seem to mesh. Everyone is poor and can’t afford things in the real world yet everyone seems to be rich online.
As for the characters, I think my above summary pretty much tells you what I think. Wade was not a relatable character and fits in the whiny white male lead that too many characters fall into. Similar to the use of the deus ex machina trope, there is a lot of ‘convenient explanation as to how the protagonist knows how to get out of every bind’ being used. The white male lead fumbled around until the answer fell into his lap. He also grossly invaded his friend’s privacy and took the high road about it. Then insert fear of females into the MC before introducing the manic pixie dream girl. The best friend is treated like a cute side-kick. I liked Og the best out of every character, and he was only treated as a convenient side=character built to help the useless MC.
Also, while it is nice to see more autistic characters in books being awesome and capable, the author did not do it in a respectful way in this book, describing Halliday as ‘high functioning’, which is very harmful to the community. Then there is the part where the main character gets super fat but conveniently losses all the weight in a very short amount of time because of a girl. Finally, there could have been some interesting diversity in this book but instead it was treated as a plot twist to the point it reminded me of JK Rowling wanting credit for diversity that was never really in the books.
Finally, the plot, much like the worldbuilding, was interesting on the surface but breaks down in execution and delivery. I was really interested in the scavenger hunt aspect of the story and it was well done for the most part. I didn’t like the 80s aspect of it, with half or more of the references going over my head and there were times when it seemed like an encyclopedia of 80s jargon held together by a thin plot. There were certain aspects of the plot I liked: the sixers and the corporation were great, if one-dimensional, antagonists. The blackmail scene was something I could imagine happening. The sponsorship deals and the awards for winning I can picture happening, but the sponsorship deals never bit him in the butt (unrealistic) and Wade manage to make enough money to buy everything he ever wanted, ever. That seems very unrealistic to me. Or how about when the answer to one of the clues was in his grail diary, but he never thought/bothered to ctrol+f the thing? Yet still is the one that wins. There were no checks and balances in filling out requisition forms, which much of the plot hinged on and is unrealistic. The corporation would do some illegal things but not others that would destroy the plot just because there is a mesley law about it. Finally the book ended in a cheap romantic plot that did nothing to solve the issues of the world that non of the characters really cared about since they spend all their time online.
In the end: the fact I wanted to re-read this book shows that there was something about it that I did like. I loved the first third or so of this book but things got worse and worse after that. It was long-winded and needed more editing, but the quest and the world intrigued me. However, the thing that made me not like this book was the wasted potential. It had the potential to be epic, but the manic pixie dream girl, the whiny white male saviour, the deus ex machina, and several other things the come into play at the end combine to make this book more of an annoyance then a favourite for me. Many people love this book for the 80s nostalgia but I never grew up in the 80s so most of the references were lost on me. Others say it’s geek culture in this book that they love, but this book just scratches the surface of the gross aspects of nerd and gaming culture and brushes over how harming it can be. Things like gate keeping and sexism.