Ready Player One is the debut novel of Ernest Cline, a writer who, before its release, was best known for writing the original script of the super disappointing Fanboys. Despite this potentially damning connection, it was one of those books that was fucking everywhere recently. For a few months it was the only bloody book that anyone seemed to be talking about. I guess it helps when your primary audience are too young to have watched the shitty films you helped write. I hoped that I liked Cline’s novel because it does contain lots of things I’m very fond of. However, as a YA dealing with a dystopian future, I was sort of predisposed to fucking hate it. However, I just couldn’t stop myself reading it. It took a long time, admittedly, but I couldn’t stop reading it.
Ready Player One is the story of Wade Watts and his experiences inside the Oasis: a MMORPG virtual reality simulator. The novel is set in 2044 when life on Earth has become fucking unpleasant thanks to the human dependence on depleting fuel resources. Humanity has abandoned real-life and spends its time having adventures in the Oasis. Why bother living in the shitty real-world when you can ignore the trouble and enjoy a high-definition wonderland that is only as small as your bank balance.
The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday, is the kind of eccentric and shy tech-nerd that has become such a popular figure these days. On his death, a video is released introducing the users of the Oasis to a new quest that will see his vast fortune and control of his company handed over to the victor. The world’s largest, most important and incredibly complicated Easter Egg hunt. For five fucking years, people keep trying and failing to solve the first clue.
Halliday was obsessed with the 80s, the decade in which he grew up, so all the clues are an intricate attempt to rattle off page after page of pop culture references. Essentially, Ready Player One isn’t really a novel but more of an encyclopaedia. Cline has decided, for whatever reason, to show the world just how much he knows about video games, films, and television. It’s an exhausting stream of references and allusions. It’s no wonder readers are lapping it up so readily. When it’s basically just a list of things that make them go “I understood that reference”.
As far as I can tell, people love Ready Player One so much because it carries with it a warm sense of familiarity and safety. Wade is the kind of person Cline is targeting and has the kind of interests that most YA readers will share these days. In this day and age, it’s not a gamble to write a book for teenagers that’s about video games and is full to the brim with references to all things 80s and 90s. Cline isn’t writing well here: he’s writing clever.
When you take away all these references what is there really about Ready Player One? It’s not even a good YA dystopia. There are more than enough uninteresting and tired clichés for you to play YA dystopia bingo. From the first page there is no doubt about how it will end and it’s so simplistic that it’s not even funny. I can’t be the only one who found it a little insulting that Cline wrote a novel set in the future whilst only referencing the past. Can I? Although, why bother to write a fully fleshed out narrative and create your own pop culture when you can just ride the coattails of the things other people created? It’s fucking pandering at its most desperate.
It’s part of the reason I’ve become so disillusioned with Simon Pegg over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I love Spaced as much as the next guy but, if we’ve learnt anything over the last few years, it’s that without his endless Star Wars references Simon Pegg just isn’t quite the same. You can’t make up for an interesting premise or creativity with your in-depth knowledge of John Hughes movies or Rush songs. I’m a fully paid up member of the geek clan so love a good discussion of all things. I just don’t think it’s the be all and end all. Ready Player One just didn’t offer enough beyond its endless supply of nerd-bait.