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October 19, 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is clearly aimed at my generation, the generation who grew up playing arcade games and watching Back To The Future and The Holy Grail and programming early home computers. It's set in the future where a virtual reality called OASIS has become all consuming. It's like the internet only you use avatars and it's 3D. Stop me if you've heard this before... The dead creator of OASIS (amazing how lone coders can do so much in fiction) has left a fortune to anyone who unravels his riddles and finds his easter eggs, in a classic treasure hunt throughout OASIS.

The hero is a young man called Wade who has no friends, except in OASIS where his avatar is handsome and fit. The bad guys are a corporation constructed with the entire purpose of winning the quest.

Written in black and white like that it now feels even more unoriginal than when I was reading it.

In many ways it feels aimed at a YA audience who have never read anything about virtual reality, because although the Metaverse is name-checked, as are other classic virtual realities, nothing at all is done to make OASIS original. In fact it's far, far less original, and exciting than the Metaverse in Snow Crash.

And yet it can't be written for a young audience because the nostalgia for the 80s in ladled on so heavily that surely no one except people like me, who lived through it, would ever care about a mention of Zaxxon. But then every time something nostalgic is mentioned the novel explains it in detail, explaining why it is so great, so that anyone who knows the references gets bored. You see that I'm going in circles here? The novel is confused. Which audience is it aiming for?

It's tempting to say the style is YA, but that may be insulting to YA as Ready Player One is just not focused and lean enough, simplistic prose style maybe, young heroes maybe, but just too long and flabby.

The plot is predictable, it's a quest, guess what will happen? The characters are stereotype outsiders lacking depth, at no time did I root for them, in fact I found them annoying. And infodumps galore.

Yes I have fond memories of the 80s and playing those video games and watching those films (on a minor tangent, music was thoroughly under represented in the nostalgia, where was all the Hair Metal?!) however the books that capture the excitement of those times for me are Neuromancer and Snow Crash. The books that did something new, not recycled a slightly more sophisticated version of Second Life. Ready Player One feels dated. If I have to wear a haptic suit in the future to interact with VR I'll consider it a failure of science and technology. All in all disappointing. A good thing about the novel was that it provoked an intense desire in me to reread Snow Crash imminently.