One might say that Ready Player One is a remix of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash. Both novels are set in an ugly future where greedy, money slave corporations have taken over the world so people constantly look for refuge in virtual reality. In RPO’s case, that virtual reality is called OASIS, a fitting name. While both novels seem in every way similar – nerd utopias, ass-kicking female characters, sarcasm, sticking it to the man… the main difference is that RPO is more like a treasure hunt perpetrated by a sort of Bill Gates character while SC is a cyberpunk detective story.
Reading the first few chapters of RPO, I was ready to snooze. There was a huge amount of info dump that seem unnecessary but I guess was needed to built certain character profiles and plot points. However, once you get through the first few chapters, the story begins to pick up and ultimately, becomes a real adventure.
The protagonist, Wade Watts or Parzival, is an average overweight kid who lost his parents and now lives with his abusive aunt in the trailer stacks. His life’s goal is to get the easter egg left by James Halliday (creator of OASIS) in order to inherit his fortune and become the owner of OASIS himself. A whole community was born in search of this treasure hunt. They call themselves gunters. Some go at it alone like Wade and Art3mis (awesome female gunter and Wade’s love interest) while others join clans. The worse go work for IOI Corp who wants a tight control on OASIS that they would even murder gamers offline to get ahead.
Since Halliday was obsessed with 80s pop culture, Wade lived and breathed the 80s. That meant that there was a surplus of references in the book. Admittedly, I had to google some of them throughout reading. Were they necessary to the story line? I guess. Most felt pandering to nostalgia.
I did enjoy the book despite the copious amounts of information because of the characters. They were not perfect in real life (who is anyways?) and yet they created avatars they wished they were. It’s telling of how people live nowadays. The insecurities and flaws make them believable as real people; and the way they overcame this at the end of the book, I think, is the best part of the novel.
I give this book a 4 over 5 stars. It’s nostalgia porn, and perfect for gamers and adventure seekers.
P.S. There are some great ideas to better humanity in Ready Player One’s OASIS that I wish can happen in our lifetime (like virtual classrooms and movie simulations). Read all about it in B.D. Ward’s article in Hypergrid Business.