Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Image Description: the audio-book-cover of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The audio-book-cover displays a large collection of caravans and metal scaffolding connecting together to form a large stack of metal. There’s a young-male character (presumably the main character Wade), climbing up the metal scaffolding and interconnected pipes. The title text of “Ready Player One” is transparently super-imposed over the top.

Title: Ready Player One (Book #1 of The Ready Player One Series)
Author: Ernest Cline
Social Media: Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter
Publisher: Random House AudioBooks
Format and Price: Audiobook at $14.95 (with Audible Membership)
Rating: 3 out of 5

About The Author:
ERNEST CLINE is a novelist, screenwriter, father, and full-time geek. His first novel, Ready Player One, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists, and is set to be adapted into a motion picture by Warner Bros. and director Steven Spielberg. His second novel, ARMADA, debuted at #4 on the NYT Bestseller list and is being made into a film by Universal Pictures. Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-travelling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games.

About The Book:
It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And, like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who died with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late 20th century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.

Narrator Wil Wheaton is an American actor and writer best known for his role as Wesley Crusher in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and for playing Gordie Lachance in the film Stand By Me. More recently, he has appeared in several episodes of the TV series The Big Bang Theory as himself.

Spoiler Warning: Yarr! Thar be spoilers ahead.

Positive Elements of The Novel:
~Strong Characterisation: While Ernest Cline has a problem with telling and not showing, I will admit that the main characters of the High-Five all eventually get a detailed character backstory and all of them get a moment in the spotlight. The grand finale solution, Everybody teaming up together, was actually a great idea of Wade’s. I liked how all the characters worked together and bounced off each other to problem-solve. While Ready Player One has problematic elements, I have to admit that when it was good, it was good, and I found the narrative engaging. I wanted to find out how it all ended.

~Audiobook Performance: I read the Audiobook instead of an eBook and Wil Wheaton was the perfect choice for Audiobook narrator. Wil Wheaton does a great job and (as this is a love-letter to 1980’s Pop Culture and Nerd Interests) Wil Wheaton also gets to talk about himself. It’s pretty funny hearing Wil Wheaton refer to himself as an old geezer.

~Reasonable Authority Figure: I super appreciate the existence of Ogden “Og” Morrow, he’s one of the few reasonable adults in the book and he’s actually willing and able to do something against IOI. To be honest, I would have prefered it if Og had interfered a little sooner, but it works out well all the same.

Negative Elements of The Novel:
~Hollywood Nerd: Wade is a white, able-bodied, heterosexual male protagonist, which means his “coming of age” story doesn’t bring anything new to the Nerd table. I’ve seen this all before. While I’m sure there will be some Nerdy/Geeky people who feel an emotional resonance with Wade’s character, however, that’s just not the case for me personally. Ready Player One was mildly entertaining, however, it will never be my “Black Panther”. As a Nerd/Geek, Ready Player One doesn’t represent me, and it doesn’t represent my Nerdy/Geeky friends. Ernest Cline’s brand of Hollywood Nerd has been regurgitated over and over into Hollywood films for years.

~Limited First Person Perspective: I don’t like the Limited First Person Perspective. I prefer to see more than one point of view within a narrative, and the problem with Limited First Person is that, unless it’s happening right in front of Wade’s face, the reader isn’t exposed to alternative information or a different point of view. It’s a big problem with this novel, which has resulted in a lot of scenes where Wade is told things in past tense, instead of showing the reader what was happening in present-tense. It also doesn’t help that, as most of the novel is being told in past-tense, this process tends to undermine scenes that have any tension or conflict.

~The Trinity Effect: In the movie The Matrix, the character Trinity starts out being more advanced than Neo with regards to martial arts skills and knowledge of their world, but by the end of the movie Neo has surpassed Trinity (in terms of skill and knowledge). From the moment Neo surpasses Trinity, Trinity is no longer useful for Neo’s character development, and Trinity is then regulated to Romantic Interest who only occasionally does something plot-relevant/useful.

I don’t enjoy this particular narrative pattern.  Female characters are more than just help desks/plot devices. I also want to point out that female characters don’t have to be one particular way. Women are not a monolith and can be more than one thing at the same time, they are complex, just like everyone else (and the narrative should reflect that). I feel as though Artemis suffers from The Trinity Effect, she starts out super capable and was perfectly capable of winning the Easter Egg Hunt, then her progress derails because… The Plot Demands It? IDK, I just feel that Artemis and Aech would have been much more interesting Main Characters.

~Poorly Written Female Characters: I think the major problem with Ready Player One is that Ernest Cline lacks the ability to write females characters well. He also doesn’t seem to realise that Wade’s experiences on the OASIS and Artemis’s experiences on the OASIS are going to be radically different.

Ernest Cline writes Ready Player One as if a specific type of online harassment that women deal with doesn’t occur. I can only assume he did not talk to a woman who uses the internet (or any other minority for that matter). If the author had bothered to talk to women who are involved in online dating, or women who have an interest in Nerdy Activities, he would have realised there’s a vast difference in online interactions.

~Stalking Is Love: Wade’s methods of Romantic Pursuit are a bad combination of Obsession and Stalking, straight out of the Harrison Ford School of Romance. Artemis makes it very clear from the beginning that she’s not here to make friends. Artemis’s goal is to win the Easter Egg Hunt. That doesn’t stop Wade from following Artemis on her blog, and it doesn’t stop him from constantly emailing/contacting Artemis. He eventually wears her down and she begins to reciprocate.

When Artemis breaks up with him, Wade does not take it well, and (from my point of view) it confirms that Artemis was making the right decision. Wade even does the Boom-Box Thing from Say Anything. Wil Wheaton is such a good actor and performer and you can hear the cringy embarrassment in his voice as he reads those chapters. Eventually, Wade accepts the reality of the break-up, and at the end of the novel Artemis and Wade resolve the problems between them. The reality is that this whole situation should never have occurred. Those chapters should not exist.

Book VS Movie:
~Casting: The casting for most of the movie is really good. Lena Waithe is brilliant as Aech and Simon Pegg is perfect as Og. There is an exception, and that would be Tye Sheridan, who plays Wade Owen Watts. In the book, it’s implied that James Halliday had Autism, but it was never officially diagnosed. There’s also the implication inside the book that, as Wade understands James Halliday so well, he could have Autism too, however, it’s never addressed in the book or movie. I would almost describe Tye Sheridan’s facial expressions as either blunted or lacking in expression (depending on the scene). So, I don’t know if Tye Sheridan was incorporating the possibility that Wade could be Autistic into his acting, or if it was just bad acting.

~Adaptional Pragmatism: While the movie has its flaws, it is enjoyable on it own, in fact, I would argue that I enjoyed the movie a lot more than the book. I felt that Steven Spielberg did an excellent job of adapting this book into a movie. A lot of the character’s backstories were cut out of the novels or altered to refit the movie, One of the reasons I struggled with the book was because of problematic content, however, the movie does cut out a lot of that problematic stuff.

The thing is Ernest Cline was involved in the movie as a scriptwriter and as a producer, it’s as faithful as it’s ever going to be, and a lot of writers don’t get that level of creative control when they sign over the movie rights. It makes a lot of sense why they’ve had to change a lot of the tasks and gates, especially since they’ve made the timeline a lot more compressed and centralised everyone’s location. Cohesion is better than exact details.

~Character Alteration – Ogden “Og” Morrow: In the book, Og has god-like powers, he can do anything and everything inside the OASIS, as he’s one of the joint-creators. Just before he died, James Halliday also specifically asked him to “DM” the Easter Egg hunt, just to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. While I love Og as a character from the book, his God-mode authority and power within the OASIS did make me question why he had waited so long to intervene. Steven Spielberg seems to have come to a similar conclusion.

So, Movie-Og’s position of power and authority is limited, and this has been specifically arranged by James Halliday. So what does Og do? He DM’s the Easter Egg Hunt anyway, not because James Halliday asked him to, but because it was the right thing to do. James was his best friend and, even though they ended things on bad terms, the OASIS was important to both of them. It kind of makes me appreciate Og even more. The one good thing that Movie-Wade is able to do well was to give Og closure.

~Character Alteration – Artemis and Wade: I’m not going to sugar-coat this, I have problems with Book-Wade’s character, however, there is also no denying that he contributed to the narrative. Book-Wade earned that Extra-Life Quarter, he played a perfect game of Pac-Man, it wasn’t handed to him by sheer lucky circumstances. Book-Wade came up with the idea of regularly meeting in the private chatroom. Wade made sure to make diplomatic gestures with Daisho (the Megaman mission). It’s was Book-Wade’s idea to hack into IOI and get the information needed to bring down the shield from the inside.

On the other hand, Movie-Wade contributes nothing to the narrative, and ALL of Book-Wade’s good ideas were carried out by either Artemis or Aech. The idea that Movie-Wade does come up with just happens to be a lucky guess that just happen to work out. If anything, Movie-Wade makes things worse, and then Movie-Artemis has to kidnap him in order to save his stupid arse (this makes sense in context). Movie-Artemis is a powerful gunter, who regularly participates in battles, and she runs her own popular blog (not sure if that’s a book thing and a movie thing). On the flip-side of that, in real life, Movie-Artemis is also apart of a Rebellion group that’s trying take down IOI, because they killed her Dad while he was an indentured slave.

I just don’t understand why Artemis isn’t the main character of this movie. What does she even see in Movie-Wade?

All in all, I think the book and the movie were trying to address the dangers of Online Interaction taking over peoples lives, however, because of the World-building and the fact that the characters live in a Dystopian Society, there’s a lot of ways this can be interpreted or misinterpreted. Is it anti-technology or pro-technology? Is it possible for it to be both? For me, I think the Author wanted to have fun with this particular topic, and for it to be a “Commentary on Society”. Unfortunately, it comes across as trying to “have your cake and eat it too”. Because there’s only one perspective on this, the story lacks depth and nuance. So, while I can see why a lot of people will enjoy this, this novel doesn’t work for me.

Available for Purchase: Amazon| Audible | Book Depository | Kobo Books

~Pop Culture Detective: Predatory Romance in Harrison Ford Movies
~Pop Culture Detective: Stalking for Love
~Pop Culture Detective: The Complicity of Geek Masculinity on the Big Bang Theory
~Pop Culture Detective: The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory

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