Sesana's Reviews > Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
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's review
Aug 09, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: dystopian, geek, science-fiction
Read in October, 2011

This may be the geekiest book that I've ever read. The story is set almost entirely in Oasis, a sort of World of Warcraft on steroids. The Oasis is an entirely immersive VR simulator, which is so awesome it's managed to license content from basically everything good. In practice, this means that I could spend Monday flying my X Wing into battle against geth and Tuesday riding my unicorn across Middle Earth with my trusty vorpal sword in hand. I bet I could even spend Wednesday in early 19th century Paris, fighting with Les Amis on the barricades. Thursday? Thursday is TARDIS day. (I want this game. NOW.) The entire setup is steeped in 80s nostalgia, of course, and with good reason. The designer of the Oasis, James Halliday, has died, and left his entire fortune, and control of the Oasis itself, to whoever can find his Easter egg first. And the key will be understanding Halliday's own nerdy obsessions, which are grounded in the 80s. Which means that being skilled at Pac Man could win you billions.

This is nerd porn at its finest, and as a second-generation nerd, pure heaven for me. At least half the joy of the book is the references, which are fast and furious. And the author trusts (and knows!) his audience enough to not insert a bunch of, "Star Wars, right?" comments. He knows we know, and if we don't, then that line just isn't for us. But that really is only half the joy. The storyline itself takes elite gaming to a new level by giving it realistic, real world consequences. There's the money, of course, but there's also control of the Oasis, and a truly evil villain (in this case, an evil megacorp) to struggle against. There are a few pvp battles, but it's mostly solitary pursuits getting people through the contest. And somehow, Cline managed to ramp the tension up even on those.

Our narrator is the hero of the piece, Wade Watts. He has one of the most authentically nerdy voices I've read recently. Early on, he has an argument with a friend over the relative merits of the movie Ladyhawke, and it's pitch perfect. My friend and I just had essentially this exact same argument over Dragon Age II last night. Wade has a nicely done and very believable character arc, moving him from a true Oasis obsessive to... more. Much more.

But no, it's not perfect. The narration could be really repetitive. In a relatively early scene, Wade has found a dungeon based off of an old D&D module. And that? That is awesome. But I did get tired of hearing how each individual element was "exactly like the original module" over and over again. And again. And again. Considering how much of the hunt for the egg was spent playing in other people's sandboxes, that happened much more often than I would like. It made those chunks of narration drag.

This is kind of a nitpick, because it doesn't have much impact on the story as a whole. Now, I'm not a player of MMOs, so I'm speaking from my experiences as a more traditional gamer. (Everything I know about MMOs I learned from Kingdom of Loathing and The Guild.) It seems to me that Oasis is really tough on the noobs, implausibly so. From what I can gather from Wade's narration and experiences, when a new avatar is created, it shows up on a planet that has nothing but shops, and with no in-game money (credits, of course). Credits are needed to go anywhere else in the Oasis, including anywhere that might have some XP. The only way to get credits at this stage of the game is to use real-world money to buy credits. And this is the point where I think the Oasis would have some problems appealing to the wide variety of people it apparently does. Low-income gamers, for one. Unless I'm missing something, a gamer with no real-world money to invest in the Oasis would spend their entire experience stranded in a giant shopping mall, with no way to leave or purchase anything. That would suck. A more plausible setup would be for low-level gamers to have free access to a planet with low-level enemies and loot. Not only does this make the entire game more accessible for those with no money to spend on a game, it also acts as a hook, to get people addicted. It also seems like players need a huge amount of XP to gain even lower levels. (At one point, Wade mentions having spent entire weekends slaying kobolds, and he's still only level 3.) This would easily frustrate a lot of players. Most games require small amounts of XP to get the first few levels, and ramp up the XP requirements exponentially. Halliday was (obviously) a genius at game design, and I don't think he'd make his masterpiece quite so hard to get into. But like I said, it doesn't have much impact on the story as a whole, and after awhile it ceases to become an issue at all.

I listened to the audiobook version, of course. I mean, it was read by Wil Wheaton, who is just perfect for it. I can think of no better match between narrator and text. In fact, I don't think anyone else could have read this book. It was made for Wil Wheaton to read. I'll go further and say that this is a book that must be experienced in audio form. You're just cheating yourself otherwise.
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08/17/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Stephen (last edited Oct 20, 2011 08:39AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stephen Great review, Sesana. I completely agree that listening to Wil Wheaton read this is the ONLY way to experience this.

Sesana Seriously. It's like Wade was written specifically for him.

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