I only need one word to describe Ready Player One: overkill. Seriously. This novel is like the Treme[1. Treme is an hour-long list of Things You Can Find in New Orleans.] of 80s references: it’s basically a list of all of the Things about the Eighties Ernest Cline could come up with. It’s also juvenile: In the past, I’ve said that several YA books should be put in the Adult section (most notably the Hunger Games trilogy). Ready Player One is just the opposite: it’s a kid’s book. The only problem is that kids wouldn’t understand any of the 80s references.
Ready Player One is set in 2045, after we’ve used up most of our fossil fuel, and the world is a pretty miserable place. The protagonist, Wade, lives in the stacks, a literal pile of trailers. He spends most of his time playing a game that’s a mix between Second Life and Warcraft, called OASIS, as does everyone else in the world. The creator of OASIS, a very wealthy man, has just died. He didn’t have any heirs, so he created a contest within the game for his company and his money. It’s an easter egg hidden behind three gates that have to be opened with three keys within the game. Obviously, everyone wants to win, and there are thousands of players after that key. They call themselves gunters. There’s also a huge corporation, IOI, after the prize, but they want to take over OASIS for monetary gain. And they’re evil. Anyway, five years pass after the game begins, and lots of gunters have begun to lose interest, thinking that the easter egg is too well hidden for anyone to find. Then Wade finds the first key, and the race begins to find the egg. There’s also a stupid love story subplot.
The general plot is good: it’s the details that annoy me. Halliday, the creator of Oasis, was obsessed with the 1980s, and to understand the clues to where the keys are hidden, one would have to know everything about Halliday. And it’s all 80s references. If it’s pop culture, and it happened in the 80s, Cline worked it in somewhere. It just doesn’t end. At one point early in the novel, Wade has to supply the dialogue for all of the movie WarGames, and we hear too much of it. Later, he has to survive an entire videogame. We hear too much about that, too. By the time I was halfway through the novel, I was downright angry.
It also didn’t help that Ready Player One invaded my dreams. I hate it when novels do that, even if they’re really good. I spent one night in a sort of twilight state calculating how to get those keys, and the next night, last night, I could hardly sleep at all. What I learned from this experience: no scifi novels at bedtime. Not that I read many scifi novels, anyway.
Other than the 80s overload, Ready Player One is a decent novel – if you like pop fiction (I don’t) and if you really like the 1980s. I still think it belongs in the YA section.