Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

If you were a teen in the 1980s, loving Sesame Street, the Muppets, Atari 2600 games, John Hughes movies, D&D, MTV music, Zork, and nerdy Commodore 64s, then I have a book for you:  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  I lived through the 80s too old to play D&D but I dug the music, films and computers.  Cline made me terribly envious I hadn’t grown up in his decade.


I wish I could understand why this book was so much fun to read!  I’d use the formula to write bestsellers.  This story reminds me of a hip new version of Citizen Kane that doesn’t take itself so seriously.  Set in mid 21st century, aging billionaire James Halliday dies leaving a rather unique Last Will and Testament.  Halliday made his fortune developing a virtual reality universe called OASIS that most people use to attend school, work and play in because the real reality is rather bleak.  Halliday’s avatar tells the world he’s worth over $200 billion and that the first person to find his Easter Egg in the OASIS will win his fortune and company.

Now this gets the attention of the world’s foremost video gamers, as well as corporations hot to own the OASIS.  Our story begins with Wade Watts, a poor kid living in the trailer park from hell, whose only access to OASIS comes from his public school gear, but in his own 21st century Horatio Alger, Jr. way climbs out of poverty to compete with legendary gamers.

The contest designed by Halliday is hard, so hard that no one gets anywhere for five years.  It becomes obvious that the clues are hidden in Halliday’s childhood, just like Charles Foster Kane’s secrets, and only the most obsessed fans of 1980s trivia have any chance of solving the puzzles.  Ready Player One is perfect for people who grew up in the 1980s, but the story is so well told bookworms from any decade will love it.

I wonder how many people born forty years after the the 1980s will ever find our times so fascinating?  It would be like me devoting my whole life to the 1910s – but wait, I am madly in love with Downton Abbey.  And just look at the success of Steampunk!

This might be the clue to Cline’s success – creating great characters set in an fantastically detailed milieu, because if we had an OASIS system to visit, I think we all would find virtual worlds based on the past quite seductive.  Nostalgia is a powerful emotion.  At work the favorite topic of guys my age is music from the 1960s and 1970s.  I’m in a classic science fiction book club where we read and reread books from the 1940s-1970s.  Start paying attention to movies (Hugo, Sherlock Holmes, TinTin, War Horse) as more are set in the past.  Maybe it’s the bad economic times and we just need escapism.  Ready Player One sure made me forget about now.

Other Reviews and Sites – probably to read after reading the book

JWH – 1/12/12

12 thoughts on “Ready Player One by Ernest Cline”

  1. Hey, Jim,
    I really liked this book, too. I was 14 in 1980 so I can sort of understand why it connected with me so much. All I can say is for people who like music, movies and video games it presses those buttons _hard_ but in a good way. Did you read it in print or listen to the Audiobook?

    1. I listened to the audio edition where Wil Wheaton did a bang up job of reading. He was perfect for this book. But I also ordered a hardback copy of the book for reading and reference.

        1. I’ve gone to almost exclusively to listening to novels. I find a great narrator to be a far better reader than I ever could, so I now leave my reading to the professionals. I know this makes me a literate wimp, but so be it.

  2. Interesting, Jim. As you know, I wasn’t a teenager in the 1980s, and none of that resonates with me (except maybe Zork), but I like the idea of OASIS.

    That’s what computer RPGs (role-playing games) are now, in fact – virtual worlds. The SF aspect of what they’ll be like in the future really appeals to me.

    After all, this is an area where twenty years ago is ancient history. So what will it be like 20 years from now? Or 40 years from now?

    1. Bill, I thought about you when reading this book, and wondered if you had any experiences with the games they covered in the story. Ready Player One focuses on the 1980s, but it does describe a vast online world at mid-century that is significantly different from today. OASIS is a big 3x3x3 cube of cubes, like a massive Rubrik’s cube. Each individual cube is a special kind of universe by itself. The rules of the universe are a mixture of science fiction and fantasy. In the story people travel around the OASIS like we science fiction fans imagined traveling around the galaxy. It’s pretty cool.

      1. I don’t know if you gentlemen are familiar with Minecraft but in a way I think it’s partially similar to a low-res (and not just graphically) version of what may some day be an OASIS-like virtual space.

      2. Minecraft is a great game, but I was picturing something more like World of Warcraft or a multiplayer Skyrim. However, I haven’t read the book.

        Still, if the players create their own story, as they do in Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress, rather than following someone else’s storyline, your comparison might be accurate, Dan. Is that how it is in OASIS?

        Mainstream games don’t seem to be moving in that direction, though, do they? It’s just the indie game developers, so far, at least.

        PS. Jim, from your description, Tad Williams’ “Otherland” books might be similar. I’ve only read the first one, though.

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