William Cline's Reviews > Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
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Jan 06, 2016

it was ok
Read from September 05 to 11, 2011

For most of the first half of this book, I was unimpressed. The writing was flat, and the story was unremarkable. The book gets hype because of its pervasive use of 1980s popular culture, particularly its references to science fiction, fantasy, and video games. The problem was that most of these references served no purpose. Something would be described by pointing out its resemblance to something from a film or television show—a particularly annoying form of "telling, rather than showing" given that a reader of the wrong age or background won't know the reference—but said reference would add nothing to the events at hand. Either that, or the reference would be carried to cringe-worthy, fan-fiction-grade extremes. For instance, in one scene, the online avatar of the main character, Wade Watts (known online as Parzival) pilots a DeLorean DMC-12 resembling the one used in the Back to the Future films, except for the addition of the computerized voice and sweeping red light of KITT from Knight Rider, a pair of Ghost Busters logos adorning the doors, and a license plate reading "ECTO 88".

Whether mentioned in passing or over the top like the aforementioned mash-up car, however, virtually all of these allusions are brought up and then dropped in the space of a sentence. The DeLorean, for example, takes up a couple of paragraphs and is then never used again. Ready Player One doesn't draw from 1980s popular culture; it just name-drops it all over the place. Sometimes it seemed the only purpose for these references was that the author and reader could share a knowing, self-congratulating smile.

The notion of a "massively multiplayer" online role-playing game becoming the human race's main form of entertainment presents some amusing possibilities, though, and Ready Player One doesn't completely squander its potential. The moment when I started to enjoy the book came about halfway through, in a chapter describing a day in Wade's life some time after his (view spoiler)

Cline shares the late twentieth century computer geek's vision of the Internet as a benevolent force. Wade has genuine feelings of friendship and love for his online friends, people he would never have met offline, people with whom he shares bonds of mutual interests and ideals rather than geography. An online world is one without racism or other prejudices. (Or at least, it's a world where you can avoid these prejudices by configuring your avatar appropriately. Let's not go into the implications of that.) Furthermore, despite its post-energy-crisis shabbiness, the world of Ready Player One is one in which the good guys have won: free speech, privacy, and "net neutrality" all rule the day.

At the same time, no matter how cool he tries to make the OASIS (and I admit, it is cool), Cline is conflicted about it. Its pleasures are tempered by the fact that for many of its players it serves as a drug, distracting them from the shabby state of real life in late twenty-first century Earth. Wade's dissatisfaction with a life spent entirely online is explored throughout the book, though never deeply. I would have liked to see the book explore this tension between the unifying and isolating effects of the online world in more detail.

In summary, Ready Player One touches on some interesting ideas, although it doesn't explore them as deeply as I would have liked. The writing is nothing special, but it gets the job done. The story gets more interesting in the second half, and the annoying popular culture references become less frequent. I'm glad I stuck it out to the end, but I don't think it deserves whatever hype it's getting in nerd circles.
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Reading Progress

09/05 page 20
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09/05 page 100
26.0% 3 comments
03/20 marked as: read
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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-50 of 153) </span> <span class="smallText">(153 new)</span>


message 1: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan A thoughtful analysis. Thanks Will.


message 2: by Brian (last edited Sep 12, 2011 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian Woah, I think this is The Answer: "Ready Player One doesn't draw from 1980s popular culture; it just name-drops it all over the place. Sometimes it seemed the only purpose for these references was that the author and reader could share a knowing, self-congratulating smile. "

Good call!


Brian awesome review.


Ivan Wohner That is a fantastic review. Spot on.


Christopher Completely agree. I was excited to see how the 80s nostalgia I adore would be incorporated into the story. Its not incorporated as much as it is just stuck in. Good review.


Paul Indeed. Took the thoughts right out of my head. And it's not like you DIDN'T appreciate the 80's or gaming references either. There was just something fundamentally off about the book. Flat is the perfect way to describe it. I mean, I love video games and pop culture and all, but all the "name dropping" as you described was really just that: very contrived and was sort of pandering for a "Wow I remember that! Awesome!" response. Unfortunately, it really didn't get past that part, but it was an ok read.


message 7: by Rob (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rob Completely agree with your review, it hit all the nails right on their heads. I'm thinking it may make a decent movie to take the kids to, though.


Thomas Very thoughtless review, what a piece of crap review.


Heather Thank you for this review. Glad I'm not the only one to roll my eyes constantly. The author really phoned this one in.


Melissa This book was a great read...sorry you didn't enjoy it


Galen Gulick I agree with this review 100%, particularly about the "cringe-worthy" extremes in terms of references. That scene with the DeLorean exemplifies what I had a hard time with. The references just seemed to be thrown in there just for the sake of having them. Like you'd earn cool points just by having the kid listening to billy idol while playing asteroids.


message 12: by Zach (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zach Bechtel perhaps you are more jaded than you think of yourself being. I loved this book. I truly don't understand why anyone interested in this book wouldn't enjoy it. It was a fantastic read. I don't believe your review is indicative of the actual quality, fun read this book is.


Tippi You took the words right out of my mouth. I couldn't think of how to articulate the fact that while engrossing, the book really just felt like wasted potential. You summed it up perfectly!


message 14: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Sharpe I agree completely - and still give it 5 stars. It was a guilty pleasure, but the pop culture
nailed me nearly exactly, even the obscure stuff like: I had the d&d module with the lich (and I only had a few modules). I'm also a huge Cory Doctorow fan (so obscure most probably don't even remember Cory being mentioned). Basically his shotgun pop culture approach was more like a sniper for me, and I'm a complete sucker for sentimentality.


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

This. It seems like all of the work went into 80s name dropping than developing characters, who I felt were flat and cliched (in the case of Shoto and Daito, downright embarrassingly so). I tried the Kool-Aid and wanted to spit it out about 1/3 of the way through.


Roxanne Hsu Feldman And the villain is so two-dimensional and childish! Kids' books have better drawn adversaries than this.


Noetic_Hatter I am only 40 pages into it, but your review resonates with me. It just feels like fan fiction.


Alice Ah, good. I wasn't the only one creeped out by the implications of modeling one's avatar in order to avoid prejudice. I was disappointed by how it was handled, though I didn't get into it in my review, so I could keep it non-spoilery.


message 19: by Marko (new) - rated it 1 star

Marko agreed. although I'd bumped off one more star (or two) for flat, single dimensional characters and barely having any plot at all.


Noetic_Hatter Alice wrote: "Ah, good. I wasn't the only one creeped out by the implications of modeling one's avatar in order to avoid prejudice. I was disappointed by how it was handled, though I didn't get into it in my rev..."

You're absolutely right. There's no indication at all that such a practice might be unhealthy. If anything, I'd say the author supported it.


Alice That's the impression I got, too, Derrick. He didn't even seem aware that it was problematic. Granted, it's a teenage protagonist, and there's a lot going on at the time, but I don't think it would've taken a paragraphs-long diatribe to show the author isn't suggesting elimination of sexism and racism by having everyone pose as a white male.


Margot Right there with you on this review. I'm about 50 pages in and still wondering when all the world-building exposition is going to end. This is supposed to be a story, right? With things actually happening?


William Cline Alice wrote: "Ah, good. I wasn't the only one creeped out by the implications of modeling one's avatar in order to avoid prejudice. I was disappointed by how it was handled..."

Alice, I can't claim I saw the related plot twist coming — you've got me beat there :) — so it was actually a pleasant surprise to me. The author moved past it so quickly, though, that I was left wishing it had been explored better. One of several missed opportunities.

Derrick wrote: "There's no indication at all that such a practice might be unhealthy. If anything, I'd say the author supported it. "

It came across to me more like he just dropped the ball than that he actively approved, but I can see it your way, too.

To play devil's advocate for a moment: perhaps Cline (no relation) is saying that people won't overcome their prejudices on their own, and the OASIS gives them a way to build relationships that might not happen otherwise. Then, later, one can reveal one's "true identity", forcing your associates to examine and discard their prejudices in a way they might not otherwise do.

Margot wrote: "I'm about 50 pages in and still wondering when all the world-building exposition is going to end. This is supposed to be a story, right?"

As I recall, I think you have to get through to the second half before the action picks up to a satisfying pace.


message 24: by Todd (new) - rated it 3 stars

Todd I haven't finished the book, but I pretty much agree with you. I feel like the author is trying to show off his know-how rather than use it creatively to form a story. I admit I'm often proud/ashamed I know many of the references, but if I wanted to read a list of references I have Google and Wikipedia. I wish more of these references actually impacted the plot. I'm also troubling to suspend disbelief that an 18 year old kid who goes to high school (where he's locked out of personal content) has enough time to know so much about everything AND be good at video games (natural gift or not). It seems like 5 years (since the contest was announced) isn't enough time to be master of everything...


Noetic_Hatter @William - you may be right about prejudice, but it just struck me wrong. No big shock, though, because good plotting and characters would have gotten in the way of writing out his list of "10,000 things I like about the 70's to the 90's".

I had a good time last night reading the 1-star reviews on amazon. They were all pretty spot on, and it was amusing to see those who replied to dispute. Their arguments were all variations on:

1. Everyone else liked it. You must just be a contrarian by nature.
2. Why are you such a jerk that you can't shut up and like a book?
3. If you think it sucks, what have you ever written, then?


Alice Cat Valente was reading it last night, and tweeting her impressions. She hit a lot of the same points as this thread. So clearly, we're not alone in our observations.


message 27: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat Jones I absolutely agree about the 1980's name dropping. I, myself slightly giggled everytime I remembered a term or, old school computer reference.
great review!


Heather Couldn't have said it better. Insightful and accurate review.


Mischa Quite a relief to come on GR and find that not everyone is falling over to praise such an average (if not bad) book.


Jonathan I personally loved it and not because of the references. I was born in the 90's after all. But I do agree that no book deserves the hype that they sometimes get. Good point about the name dropping.


message 31: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Excellent review.

With regard to the name dropping, I'm not sure whether I agree. The enumeration of pop culture references is part of his obsession, akin to Ishmael's barrage of information about whales and whaling in Moby Dick, but clearly Cline doesn't do it as well. To only mention those aspects of his research that become relevant to the plot would perhaps seem lazy but to try and encompass all the things he mentions would be an impossible task. I don't object that he tried to find a middle ground between these two extremes, but feel it would have been better if he'd have stuck to one form of entertainment eg. Video games.

Anyway, really fantastic review. Thanks!


Steve This is a good review, but I think it fails to factor in the intended audience, while also missing that the style of the writing is very much a tribute to many 80's era movies and books. Yes, the antagonist is very cookie cutter. Yes, they plot is very straightforward. The same can be said for The Goonies, Revenge of the Nerds, Back to the Future and many other works of the era. That was part of the point.


Margot Steve wrote: "Yes, they plot is very straightforward. The same can be said for The Goonies, Revenge of the Nerds, Back to the Future and many other works of the era. That was part of the point."

But your examples are movies. Ready Player One is a book. Make it into a movie and your point would hold. The plot can be simple, but that doesn't mean the theme and depth of the story need be simple too.


Bryan Raines I think your review completely missed the mark. I reallllly enjoyed this book for the story. The 80s pop culture was just an added bonus for me. The writing might not be the best, but it was readable and I never once got lost. This book is outstanding.

The reason that the author tells rather than shows things while pointing out 80s trivia is that the author figures if you have picked up this book than you know the tv show/game/what have you already... he is also using Wade's point of view to explain the the topic.. so yeah.. telling works instead of showing.


Noetic_Hatter Bryan wrote: "telling works instead of showing. "


Telling over and over and over again instead of showing does not work. It just makes for annoyed readers.


Steve Margot wrote: "But your examples are movies. Ready Player One is a book. Make it into a movie and your point would hold. The plot can be simple, but that doesn't mean the theme and depth of the story need be simple too."

Yes, movies will always be more simple than books, but my point is that this comes across as a stylistic choice in homage to those movies, rather than a literary shortcoming. At least that is my perspective.


message 37: by Steve (last edited Jul 29, 2012 05:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Steve Derrick wrote: "Bryan wrote: "telling works instead of showing. "


Telling over and over and over again instead of showing does not work. It just makes for annoyed readers."


And yet the book has a better than 4 star rating on Amazon, BN.com and Goodreads. Bryan is right in that Cline knows his target market well and the telling works. The annoyed readers are in the minority.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that if he had gone to the depth of showing why the references work, it would make the story unwieldy and stilted. Same as when you have to explain a joke it's no longer funny.


Margot Steve wrote: "...if he had gone to the depth of showing why the references work, it would make the story unwieldy and stilted. Same as when you have to explain a joke it's no longer funny. "

Steve, sorry I keep arguing with all your points. ;-) I think the issue is not showing in terms of the 80s references so much as showing instead of telling us the back story of the world and characters like James Halliday. If I recall correctly, the only events that actually happen in the first fifty pages of the book are: Wade leaves his trailer, enters the OASIS at his hideout, and wiles away the time before school starts. In fifty pages. The remaining forty opening pages are filled with expository back story and world-building, i.e. telling.


Steve @Margot, that is true, not much happens but it is covering events that happened 5 years in the past. It is difficult to show that happening and still tie it back in to Wade. By telling, we get the idea that Wade's impressions and analyses are mixed in. There are only a few good ways to cover that scenario.

On the other hand, I don't think that is what Bryan or Derrick meant by telling over showing.


Margot Steve, my thinking is that info dumping backstory at the beginning of a book is never a good way to go. There's always a better way to go about getting the info across, though it's definitely not as easy a way.

But you may be right that the backstory's not what the others meant.


message 41: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Moore My whole take (so far) is it's like sitting in a room with friends rememberin' 'bout rememberin. At lunch today, giggling through the winning of the copper key, a co-worker asked what I was reading. My answer: Guilty pleasure. What you said is true...but I guess so far I wouldn't have rated down for that.


message 42: by Nick (new) - rated it 2 stars

Nick Agree with your review. You and the other commenters got the nail on the head. I think I will eventually finish the book, but it is low on pile.


Jessica I have to wholeheartedly agree with you. I desperately wanted to like this book, but the characters were so flat and two dimensional that I couldn't even suspend my disbelief for longer than a few pages. All the nerdy allusions were nothing short of gimmicks, and did nothing in terms of world building or anything even remotely satisfying. The author has absolutely no idea how to write women, nor does he have a good grip on the fact that your hero is only as good as your villain. All in all, if you're a fan of young adult fiction or just enjoy easy reads, this book is perfect. But if you desire a little more substance out of your science fiction, I wouldn't recommend it.


message 44: by Duff (new) - rated it 5 stars

Duff Jessica wrote: "I have to wholeheartedly agree with you. I desperately wanted to like this book, but the characters were so flat and two dimensional that I couldn't even suspend my disbelief for longer than a few ..."

I don't understand how you can use Cline's flat characters and lack of ability to write female characters (neither criticism is without merit, but you and others have overstated this criticism, in my opinion) as a big part of giving a low rating to this book, while at the same time you have Tolkien, Jordan and Huxley novels on your favourites list? This seems entirely hypocritical to me. I agree that Sorrento is a bit ridiculous, but so are many of Rowling's villains, and you have her in your favourites too.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like all of the authors I just mentioned, but I'm just a bit confused as to how you overlook the faults in those books, but use those same faults to give Cline's novel such a low rating.


Andrew I can see your points...but it was indeed a pretty fun book. This isn't classic literature, and I didn't expect much out of it. Indeed, the author and I shared a many knowing, self-congratulating smiles along the road.

Definitely not a classic, but totally worth the read.


Diamondgemstones Duff wrote: "I don't understand how you can use Cline's flat characters and lack of ability to write female characters (neither criticism is without merit, but you and others have overstated this criticism, in my opinion) as a big part of giving a low rating to this book, while at the same time you have Tolkien, Jordan and Huxley novels on your favourites list? This seems entirely hypocritical to me."

Hey, dude. It's 2012. Guys are supposed to be a little more civilized and knowledgeable when it comes to treating a woman not like cattle but like the human being you yourself happen to be as well. This book was published in 2011. You're naming authors from the past (Huxley in particular is an eye-roll inducing addition of yours - partly because he published mainly in the thirties and he wasn't bad at all compared to his contemporaries).

And duh, women are aware that men back then didn't give a fuck if their women were cardboard cutouts or sexist caricatures because society institutionally brainwashed men into ignoring women as otherworldly, fragile, hysterically weeping or basically non-existent creatures (hence all the talk of "mystique", "female psyche", etc.) instead of reasoning, intelligent and autonomous people. Women have always come to know this from the very first books they ever picked up - in this day and age still.

No male had to even investigate if his musings on women were even remotely passable and women have been growing up with thousands of such books where females (if present) are depicted as disposable objects - and we still loved a lot of them, which is saying something when the writer and what he depicts does not even consider you worthy of a paragraph or two.

But you know what? It's not the 1850's anymore, or the 1950's for that matter. It's 2012 and men are finally held to a (tiny) higher standard that they sometimes fail to meet like in this case.

This women-are-not-complex kind of idiocy is present for us to have to take without question in 97% of the novels already available out there. When new releases are still being stubborn in their neanderthal "let's-ignore-what-real-women-are-like"? Then we call them out on it. Our society is supposed to have progressed somewhat during the last few decades, or so I've heard. Or maybe women who enjoy a book which unfortunately features a grotesque caricature of a female but was written in a far less enlightened time are all big fat hypocrites then. No more pre-2000's novels for us anymore, don't want men to think we're frauds or something!


Andrew Great review - and the closest I've seen to my reaction to the book.


Simon Lewis Totally agree


message 49: by Roxas (new) - added it

Roxas Key EW PEOPLE! I mean sure what this person might have said made somewhat sense but if you all were smart enough to know the book is for youngsters you would have obviously said that the book was a right away for the fun of teens


message 50: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark "Wade's dissatisfaction with a life spent entirely online is explored throughout the book, though never deeply. I would have liked to see the book explore this tension between the unifying and isolating effects of the online world in more detail."

I'd love to know whether you think my recently published novel, Upload, delivers on this theme where Ready Player One let you down. Upload has been compared to Ready Player One -- if you look at the Kirkus review for Ready Player One you'll see that Upload is recommended as a similar title.


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