Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Finally! A book that I bought because of hype…that actually lived up to the hype.

4/5 stars

cover ready player one

Goodreads Description

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

My Review

The Race for the Egg

The plot of Ready Player One is simple: OASIS (a massive virtual reality network) contains a complex treasure hunt for an egg which gives the winner the massive inheritance of one of OASIS’s founders. Gunters are people who have dedicated their lives to trying to solve the riddles of the treasure hunt to find the egg. Since the creator of the treasure hunt was obsessed with his time as a teenager in the ’80s, gunters have encyclopedic knowledge of ’80s pop culture.

In the world of gunters, there is a faction called the Sixers. Sixers work for a rival company that wants to win the egg to take over OASIS. Wade, the protagonist, is pitted against the Sixers when he becomes the first person ever to make progress on finding the egg. Since the Sixers are giant corporate cheaters, it was really easy for me to hate them. They made excellent villains and helped raise the stakes of the race.

I loved the way Cline built a captivating underdog-coming-from-behind story within the simple plot.

All the ’80s References

I bought RPO blindly, basically just because other people loved it. I have to admit, I didn’t really process the fact that it is based entirely around ’80s pop culture until I started reading it.

I know nothing about ’80s pop culture. I don’t even play modern video games or watch today’s movies. Despite all of that, I loved the way that Cline wove the references into his story. Even though I had no “real world” reference, I felt like I was able to understand everything that was going on and get caught up in the drama of each scene.

The World Building

I loved the world building, both inside and outside of OASIS (the virtual reality in which the contest is taking place). Throughout the book, Cline continued to explore the technology of the digital universe that he had created, making the story feel dynamic and realistic.

One thing that surprised me (though it maybe shouldn’t have) was the role that money played in OASIS. Moving from planet to planet, leveling up your avatar, and getting items to wear/use/fight with all required real-world money—something Wade didn’t have. The addition of economic disparities in the virtual reality helped ground the seemingly infinite possibilities of OASIS and add painful realism to the story.

Wade

Wade was a great protagonist. He could have so easily become the cliche, antisocial geek with a debilitating obsession with virtual reality—but he wasn’t.

Yes, he was a massive ’80s geek, but he was also smart, he took initiative, and he clearly had skills that set him apart from others—in short, he was exactly the protagonist that this story needed. I loved his slightly sarcastic voice; Wade is one of my favorite male MCs that I’ve read.

Everyone Else

RPO starts off with basically only Wade and slowly expands the focus of the book to include side characters. I liked the other members of the High Five (the five people who, including Wade, start dominating the race for the egg). Each of them had a clear voice and personality, and in their own ways, they added diversity to the book. 

Art3mis, the love interest, was one of my favorite characters. She was able to stand on her own (AKA she didn’t exist just for Wade to fall for) and her own inner conflicts surrounding the romance were believable and bittersweet. The romantic subplot also worked, never overpowering the story.

The Plot and Pacing

I expected RPO to be a quick read, but it actually took me two weeks to get through. Though it looks deceptively short (my paperback was only an inch thick), the writing style works more with paragraphs than dialogue, and the pacing is slower than I expected. There are lots of intense, get-your-blood-racing scenes, but in between, Cline dedicates a lot of time to world building and character development.

The beginning of RPO dragged a bit for me. On the first page, we are told that Wade is going to find the Copper Key and make history…but then the story focuses on exposition and world building for at least 50 pages before that actually happens. By the end of the book, I didn’t really care about the lag in the beginning—and I appreciated how fully I understood Wade’s character and the world building—so this didn’t dramatically lower my rating.

By the middle of the book, I got used to the contemplative pacing and really started to enjoy the story-telling style. Looking at the book as a whole, the slower pacing totally worked.

TL;DR Wrap-Up

RPO impressed me with its complex (but understandable) world building, its lovable characters, and its simplistic but perfectly executed plot. It’s hard to describe what genre RPO is, so I would recommend this book to basically everyone.

Just thinking about the ending makes me smile. Seriously, this one lived up to the hype.

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