Wow. Where do I start with this book.
I hate using clichéd expressions like `page-turner' and `I couldn't put it down', but words fail me. This book is a complete page-turner and I simply couldn't put it down. As an avid lover of dystopian fiction, gaming and 80s pop culture, I honestly feel like Cline wrote this book specifically for me. In fact, while reading Ready Player One I constantly found myself wishing I was best friends with the novel's protagonist and, indeed, Ernest Cline himself. If that's not a sign of a good story, I don't know what is.
Ready Player One is set in a bleak, ravaged world 40 years in the future. Our protagonist, Wade Watts, like most of the population, spends his days escaping his depressing reality by living his life in a virtual world, the OASIS. In the OASIS every individual has the potential to be who they want and do what they want. Wade's personal ambition is to be the first `gunter' to uncover James Halliday's egg, inheriting his massive fortune.
Admittedly, the outlandish subject matter takes a while to get used to and the sheer magnitude of the virtual reality we enter into takes a great deal of prior explaining. Whether or not Cline does this as succinctly as he possibly could - I'm unsure. The first 70 pages or so of the novel are devoted to an explanation of the disastrous state of planet earth, an outlining of the basic principles of the OASIS and an introduction to the Hunt for Halliday's easter egg. I found this section of the novel flat and tiresome but I can, somehow, manage to forgive Cline for this. A plot of such absurdity takes a bit of an introduction and the novel's subsequent action more than makes up for it.
I think the moment I became hooked with Ready Player One was when Wade discovered the first key. From then on I was just as immersed in this novel as Wade is immersed in the OASIS. The story is truly compelling and the characters, paradoxically, are real and vivid despite existing in an unreal world. Of all the emotions I've experienced with fictional characters, jealousy had not been one of them until I discovered this book. I had a full-on geek out and was actually jealous of Wade when he finally attains the hidden egg.
I don't think anyone reads this book expecting to discover a literary masterpiece, but what the book lacks in evocative language it more than makes up in its captivating storyline. I would have awarded Ready Player One 5 stars if it were not for a few bothersome issues. Firstly, like other reviewers , I found the 80s references a bit pointless at times. Where they advanced the plot they were a fun bonus to the novel, but all too often they just seemed like gratuitous name-dropping.
Secondly, the dialogue between Wade and his best friend Aech borders on unbearably cringey at points. I quote: "Yo, Z! What are you up to? Jerking off to Ladyhake? Give me a shout. I'm still planning to pop some corn and have a Spaced marathon. You down?" Yes, I know this is a matter of personal perception and what could I have possibly expected from two mega-geeks but this sounds more like my parents trying to be cool than a real conversation between two close friends.
Above all, I felt that the novel could have been vastly improved if Cline had have considered some of the more serious issues of living your life through a virtual reality. For example, the aspect of alienation is touched on briefly but not explored with any depth. Furthermore, Wade's aunt along with several innocent people are killed in an explosion which is, essentially, his own fault. Apart from brief moments of reflection, Wade shows little evidence of guilt. This doesn't ring true of a character who, at several instances, shows himself to be admirably selfless. It's also a missed opportunity by Cline to explore Wade's personal turmoil in greater depth.
Despite my minor concerns, I thoroughly enjoyed Ready Player One and am genuinely disappointed to have finished it. All things considered, a damn fine debut novel. I can hardly wait to find out what else the riveting imagination of Ernest Cline has in store for us.