Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline

Rating: ★★

Cline certainly chooses a sympathetic topic for his breezy sci-fi adventure. Who in my demographic could fail to be charmed by the many retro references to obscure videogames, music and literature, or fail to be moved by the fantasy of pwning the big evil corporation that wants to strip you of your privacy, charge you monthly fees and slap adverts on everything?

But a book needs more than a topic. The story in Ready Player One is a new face on a tired device, quite painfully assembled without much regard for worldbuilding (any character who can level can easily accrue game wealth and afford to idly max out his stats in his spare time, while virtual currency is still superior to 'everyone is poor' real-world currency?) or plausibility (our main character is of course possessed of a flawless memory, innate knack for video games and super hacker skills, is best friends with one of the best players in the game, etc. but is still the outcast underdog).

The dialogue was worse than the story, and I read all the conversation passages with a persistent cringe. The chat segment between Wade and Art3mis was almost physically painful. I get that these people are meant to be socially awkward, but the lack of any believable interpersonal interaction in the entire book just convinces me that Cline doesn't know how to write one. Why on earth he tried to write a romantic subplot with that handicap I don't know.

These issues stop me properly enjoying the book, but I might have been inclined to balance the poor writing against the good heart, if Ready Player One had delivered any sort of compelling message along with its homage and power fantasy. But the plot is basically just plot. Cline's attempt at a closing statement, after a tale detailing how obsessing over useless videogame trivia makes you rich and powerful and gets you the girl of your dreams, is to limply suggest that you should go outside and pay attention to reality. I'm not even convinced that he believes it.