P. Aaron Potter's Reviews > Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
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's review
Mar 24, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: scifi, geek

This is a bit of a cheat.

I read in a book on Victorian England once that suggested that they were the first generation that really understood that they were changing the world. They knew that the new technologies, advances in letters and the arts, were dramatically different than their predecessors, and this generated in them a sort of melancholy nostalgis for the past, to balance their headlong flight into the future. Heady stuff.

The nineteen-eighties was just like that.

The book itself likely merits a '2' or '3.' The adventure story is deeply contrived, the whole setup implausible, the protagonist simultaneously forgettable and unlikeable, while sub-plots like the thin 'romance' are clearly tacked-on afterthoughts.

But jesus there's a lot of name-dropping fun in here.

It's a cheat in part because I am The Ideal Audience for this book. I learned programming on a TRS-80 16k, an ex white-hat hacker who cracked my dad's password at age eleven, a gamer who bought the first edition of Tomb of Horrors with my own chore money, who watched the D&D cartoon religiously every Saturday morning, who never outgrew Star Trek or giant robots. I saw 'Heathers' in the theater, and I can recite any Monty Python skit you care to name.

As such, I found myself in a mixed state while reading RPO. On the one hand was the near-constant sense of "ooh, ooh, look, another classic arcade game I used to play! Hey look, it's my favorite 80's movie! Lookie, look, see, he's got Oingo Boingo playing in the background!" Another reviewer who called this book "nostalgia porn" is dead on, and I couldn't shake a deep sense of melancholy nostalgia as I went through, recognizing pretty much every single reference Cline dropped.

At the same time, that meant I recognized the massive internal flaws in the narrative, because I wasn't too distracted by any one moment. Given the time scale of the book, I'm not the only one who would still be living at the time this supposedly difficult contest was taking place. I solved every 'puzzle' the moment any clue was presented. I'd have sewn up the Big Prize the day after the contest got rolling. The idea that these hipster kids, who never even lived through the eighties, would be the ones to crack it, and that it would take them ten years, was silly.

Whatever, I can't rate this book on the basis of its story or the author's skill as a writer. If I were, he'd be getting a lot lower grade. But for those of us who grew up on the nerdy fringe, back in the day, this was like looking through a personal scrapbook I'd compiled myself. I kind of feel sorry for anyone trying to read this book who *didn't* have that experience: they're not going to get nearly as much out of it just as a novel.

But for those of us who were there...this is unmissable.

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