A number of years ago, I was reading a well-known (at least in Canada) book by L.M. Montgomery called “Anne of Green Gables“. One of Anne’s little quirks is her quest for “kindred spirits”–someone who she feels an attachment to, someone who shares some kind of nearly Jungian archetype butt with her.
I think that if I were Anne, I’d consider Ernest Cline a kindred spirit. As I read through Ready Player One, I often felt like he was taking the situations and culture references from notes that he took while watching me grow up in the 80s. There was one person on Goodreads who said that she was ‘born to get the references in this book”. Indeed. I couldn’t agree more. It was completely uncanny, and it made for such a fun ride.
I guess I should preface all of this by saying that there’s every possibility I’ll include some mild spoilers in here, so don’t read if you care about that kind of thing. Just know that yeah, I think if you’re a child of the 80s, and were any kind of geek back then, you’d really enjoy this book, and you probably wouldn’t hate me if you read it on my recommendation.
All right. That out of the way, here’s the bad stuff, of which there really isn’t much:
This book is for entertainment purposes only. You’re not going to find a lot of grist for the intellectual mill. The deepest questions of the book, left almost entirely unexplored, are the social impacts of living entirely online–something that more and more people are doing, myself included. I spend so much time staring at screens, and I know that lots of people do. The younger you are, the more your life is online. It was one of the things that most interested me about Unfriended. But although the idea that world is shit, and we now are so defeated and resigned about the state of things that fixing it seems too much effort and we will instead go online to find our peace is in the book, it’s just the playing field. It’s not the point. Anything more weighty is just outside of the realm of the text.
The characters are also very cookie-cutter. It’s like they were ripped from any 80s geek movie of the time. We have our awkward, socially inept, geeky protagonists whose friends are the same, we have the mythical geek-girl who is everything we expect, right down to being insecure about her looks, even though she’s got no reason to be. We’ve got the faceless, nameless corporation represented by the evil nazi-esque dude. It’s all very boilerplate. The characters aren’t compelling as much as they’re comfortable. You know these people already–no effort is required to get to know them, and that’s OK..there’s nothing to know.
The story structure is also more or less cookie-cutter, and at its root, follows a predictable and ultimately satisfying resolution that plays out just like you’d expect. This one’s hollywood at its best–everything tied up with a very pretty bow at the end. Honestly the only thing that remotely surprized me was that Og was exactly who he appeared to be. I was halfway waiting for him to be somehow in kahoots with IOI, but it seems that even he falls into the kind of Myagi stereotype.
If it were any other book, I’d give it 3 or 4 stars. But I don’t think that being deep or surprizing is the point. I think the point is the ride. The plot outline and characters are entirely the vehicle for the ride, and it’s the ride that I adored. This book gave me such joy to read that it was easily worth the 5/5 I gave on Goodreads.
The book is a one-trick pony. It lives off its 80s zeitgeist. Cline offers up so many pop culture references and reminders of 80s geek culture that anyone who grew up during that time would just be giddy with nostalgia. The references are used like a dopamine-delivery lever in my mind, and Cline pulls that lever all over the place. I think he hit nearly every high there was to hit, and at least for me, when he went off the beaten path it was even more awesome for me, because I knew those little side paths too. Everything from Ladyhawke to Blade Runner, Dungeons of Daggorath to Black Tiger. Schoolhouse Rock to RUSH. I mean, it’s all here, and each time a little bit of my history was used in the narrative, it was like my little geek heart went sqeeee!! and I was laughing at everything, loving the way the old got retrofitted into the new. There’s even a pair of black Chucks that bestow speed and flight in the OASIS. I mean, seriously. The book was written for me.
On that front, it’s really cool to see how transplanted technologies live in the near-future. I like that they’re research material, that people still play them. That they matter. I like to think that all the things I loved really did matter. I don’t want to cringe when I think of the 80s, like many people I know do. I want to love them, and this book makes that sooooo easy.
I told myself after reading about collections on AoM that when it comes to my books, I’m going to try to go all out and for every 5-star book I read, I’m going to buy that book hard cover so it can live in my library going forward in a place of honour. This one’s the second. I’ve ordered the hard cover version, and I look forward to reading it again sometime. This is one I’m keeping in the roster for the cold of winter, when I need some warming.
Most of the people I know these days are younger than I am. My wife’s considerably younger, and she didn’t have any interest in 80s pop culture in any case. Where are all of you people who loved this book? We ought to go out for a coffee or shoot some pool someplace. I need to form an 80s adoration society.