Monday, May 30, 2016

Audiobook Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Publication Date: November 16, 2011
Publisher: Broadway Books
Add to Goodreads

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

Ready Player One is a book I have heard about EVERYWHERE forever. Since "soon to be a motion picture" got plastered on the cover, I feel like I can't look anywhere without seeing it. Even friends who don't usually care about hyped books have hyped this book to me! When I picked it up, I didn't know much about it except the synopsis for the hardcover, which is considerably more vague than the one I chose to include in this review. The description I read pretty much said the world sucks, everyone spends all their time in the OASIS, and there's a huge prize that everyone is trying to win, but it's dangerous. I went into this one pretty blind, but I fully expected to love it!

This story follows Wade, a down-on-his-luck teenager living in the year 2044, when the world has run out of energy so everyone lives most of their lives inside of virtual reality. Unlike a lot of teenagers, Wade has dedicated his life to learning 80s pop culture inside and out. That's pretty much all I can say about Wade because that's literally his entire life. For the majority of Ready Player One, Wade is totally alone, holed up in an apartment and playing inside the OASIS, throwing around 80s pop culture references. He does go to school every now and then and has a crush on a girl he's never met, but I can't say much about his character other than he's a geek who knows a lot of things about the 80s.

The OASIS itself was interesting, if problematic. (I'm not even going to get into how this thing runs in a world with such a huge energy problem.) As someone who has dabbled in a MMORPG or two, I could appreciate the vastness of the world, although it did seem a little too massive at times, at least in my opinion (having tons of copies of the same planet, for example). Still, it was really cool to see this author's take on virtual reality. I thought the idea of schools being inside of the OASIS was a really unique one and actually think it's something that we should even consider for ourselves in the future.

But let's jump into some of my bigger issues with this book, shall we? This book had so much potential to be an incredible treasure hunt set in virtual reality during a bleak, dystopian future, which was kind of what I was expecting. I knew that there would be 80s references - plenty of people warned me about that. What I was not expecting was the first 25% of the book being one huge infodump, which it was. Infodumps about the world, the creator(s) of the OASIS, their enemies, the game, and random other people, some who were not even important to the story. The infodumps almost made me give up on this book entirely.

Then there were the gratuitous references to 80s pop culture. I expected that the 80s would be a big part of this book, but the endless references were just too much. At times it seemed like Ernest Cline decided to write a book with as many 80s references as possible instead of writing an awesome dystopian novel with 80s references integrated into it. Many of them made sense within the story, but many did not. And many were so, so over-explained that I wanted to throw the book across the room. But I couldn't. Because I was listening to the audio.

The actual story beneath all the infodumps and 80s references was actually a really good one! During the times when Cline stopped throwing constant explanations of 80s bands, movies, and games at me and actually focused on the hunt for the prize, I was totally invested! I love the idea of one low level player going up against a massive corporation. I thought that some of Wade's plans were brilliant and I wanted more of THAT and less of the meaningless pop culture lessons.

I expected to love this book so much. Most people that I know loved this book. It has gotten rave reviews from pretty much everyone. Even Wil Wheaton loved this book enough to narrate it! I don't know what I'm missing. Maybe we're witnessing some kind of psychological phenomenon? In any case, I didn't totally hate it. I thought that the OASIS was a really cool concept and I actually did LOVE the actual story underneath it all. Unfortunately, the bad kind of outweighed the good for me on this one.