In 2044, things in the real world are pretty terrible, and most people prefer to spend their time in the OASIS, a virtual world designed by genius creator James Halliday. Wade Watts is one of those people, and he chooses to spend nearly all his time in the OASIS utopia, where he can be anyone he wants. Like millions of others, he dreams of finding the hidden ticket that will allow him to unravel Halliday’s legacy and inherit the OASIS. Then, one day, he solves the first puzzle. And all of a sudden, everyone is watching, and he’s in the race of his life to solve the rest of the puzzles before anyone else.
Ernest Cline’s detailed (some might say obsessively so) future world is pretty bleak. However, the virtual world offers tons of appeal for both its denizens and the book’s readers, as long as they’re willing to suspend disbelief about, like, everything. A future-world that doesn’t make sense as soon as its readers spend more than a second thinking about it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems in this pop-culture-ridden, geek-friendly adventure story.
Let’s start with the world-building in Cline’s novel. Although the OASIS is obsessively detailed and Cline spends an insane amount of time filling the readers in on why things are they way they are and how the OASIS actually works, it still doesn’t make sense. Other than the OASIS itself, has anything been created since the turn of the millennium? It’s not realistic that an entire world would be obsessed with the 1980s to the point where it seems as though no other creative works have been created since. The people in this world have no culture of their own, which might be the point, but that’s never really clear.
If readers can swallow the gaping holes in the book’s world, they might still find the incredibly lengthy info dumps hard to get through. Cline allows Wade to give readers a blow-by-blow of every video game battle and movie reference, and the novel has a tendency to go on for way, way too long. Holy exposition, readers. Easily a third of this novel could have been cut, speeding up the pacing and keeping the story moving.
Many readers are going to gobble up the pop culture references and get caught up in trying to solve the riddles alongside Wade. However, the pacing of the book is so off because of the exposition that it makes it hard to build the suspense. Lackluster character development–particularly in the form of the book’s villains–make it harder to care about anyone outside of the book’s narrator. Also, Cline tries to skirt the issue of race and gender by claiming it’s a post-racial world because everyone can live in the OASIS as whatever they want. The problem is that the underlying message is that what everyone wants is to be a white male. Gross.
Definitely appeal here, and some readers will race through it, despite the book’s structural problems. This one didn’t work for me on any level.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Random House: 2010. Library copy read for book club.