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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What I'm Reading: Ready Player One

[The reviews keep coming; I am only behind by 6 books now]

Every once in awhile you read a book that you never want to end.  This is what happened to me when I listened to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (herein RPO) read to me by Wil Wheaton.

I have to give a big thanks to my friend Leah for recommending that I listen to the audio for this one.  I will have a bit to say about the audio specifically below.

RPO has had universal praise.  It won the Alex Award this year (best adult books for teens), and made the Locus "Recommended Reading List" in the "First Novel" category.

If you want my 10 second book talk version of RPO, here it is:
"This is a Science Fiction adventure, obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, featuring a teen protagonist, set in a near future dystopia, but taking place mostly in a virtual reality world." 
Honestly, this is all a reader needs to know before reading the book.  Most could tell whether this would appeal to them or not from this sentence immediately.  For me, as a child of the 1980s, who loves earth set, near future dystopian novels, reading RPO was a no brainer.

Here is a very quick plot summary.  Wade lives in a near future America in which extreme fuel shortages and extremely poverty have changed the landscape.  The one bright spot in his (and most American's) life is the Oasis.  It is a virtual reality world where "real life" is now lived.  Wade goes to school in the Oasis, he buys his real food and clothes through it, and has his only friends there.

When the creator of the Oasis died, he left a quest with clues scattered throughout the Oasis as his will. The person who can complete the quest first, inherits his fortune.

Wade is part of a community of people working for years on the quest called "gunters."  They are the good guys.  Gunters want to complete the quest because of their love and respect for the Oasis.  And the bad guys are led by a huge corporation IOI that wants to own the rights (and dollars) to the Oasis.

That is the setup.  I will give no more plot detail because the joy of reading this book is to watch Wade grow and the story unfold.

The most striking thing about RPO is its references to 1980s pop culture and video games.  In fact, here is Wikipedia's entry for the book which has an ever growing list of all of the references in the novel.

For me this was a huge appeal.  All of my favorite movies were talked about.  Even better, the end involves Monty Python and the Holy Grail, not only one of my all-time favorite movies (which I probably quote at least once a month), but literally, as I listened to RPO in February, my kids had seen the movie for the first time.  They saw it right before it came up in the novel, which was so cool; I had no idea that was going to happen.  I could list more of the fun pop culture references to me specifically, but that would take a week.

I do want to mention though that while this is Cline's first novel, he did write the screenplay to the movie Fanboys about Star Wars geeks.  This movie is also a favorite at our house since we live with a 7 year-old fanboy. [He wants to be "George Lucas" when he grows up.]  I will make sure my fanboy reads RPO when he is older!

Besides the pop culture references driving the appeal, this is a very compelling adventure story.  It starts slower with all of the necessary details we need to have the world built for us.  And then, once we are settled into the speculative world, that is it, we are hooked.  You inhabit the Oasis with Wade, you rush to discover clues with him.  You frantically turn the pages to see what is going to happen next!

Wade and his fellow gunter friends are also well drawn characters whom you grow to love.  Wade in particular is a very sympathetic character.  The coming of age theme is huge here.  Any teen who is intrigued by the 30 second book talk quite above, should read RPO.  Wade also narrates the entire book to the reader.  He is telling us the story of how he saved the day.  It is an intimate experience, so liking Wade is a huge necessity.

If you read this blog, you know that I am not always a fan of the neat, happy ending.  [One of my favorite books ends with everyone dying.] But here the happy, closed ending was picture perfect.  This novel was about the ride.  The complex puzzles, the adventure, beating the evil corporate giants, victory for the good guys.  I was cheering and rooting for Wade throughout the book.  The tone is one of the coming of age quest and it needed a happy ending.

I loved this novel so much. I was literally sad when it ended.  I don't think I have felt that way since I finished The Passage.  But at least with The Passage I know I can revisit the world and the characters in 2 more books to come.  RPO is a complete story. I do not want a sequel, but I honestly wish I could still hang out with Wade and the gang some more.  I am not a huge "gamer" but man, I wish I could actually plug into the Oasis and "meet" these characters.

Audio appeal:  Wil Wheaton is a fabulous narrator of audiobooks in general, but with his SF geek status solidified as member of the Star Trek pantheon and his place as a 1980s icon himself, he was the perfect narrator for this book.  Also, there is one line in the book where Wheaton himself is referred to.  Hearing him read that line alone was worth it.  Since this novel was a first person narration with Wade recounting his adventure, Wheaton's narration became Wade's voice.  I was compelled to listen to "Wade," and even found myself missing his voice when I was away from the story.  It added a layer of intimacy to the entire reading experience, and this intimacy enhanced all of the appeal factors I mentioned in detail above.

Also, since this is such a visual novel, listening to it, for me, allowed the story to wash over me.  I was able to day-dream the pictures while I was listening.

Three Words That Describe This Book: compelling, adventure, fun (If forced to pick one word only, it would be fun.)

Readalikes: First, I need to say that there is nothing exactly like RPO, but there are many novels which have a similar feel, tone, and pace.

Another book that came out around the same time is Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson.  Both are fast-paced, SF, adventure stories, but in Wilson's novel technology (robots) and man are at war while in RPO technology is Wade's biggest ally.  Click here to read Wilson's glowing review of RPO.

For a fantasy series that holds similar appeal, try Lev Grossman's The Magician

A backlist title that RPO reminded me of is Jonathan Lethem's Girl In Landscape.  Both have SF elements, a strong coming of age theme, and a strong band of characters working together.  Your library should own this older Lethem title.  I highly recommend it.  You can read what Liz had to say about it in class this semester when I suggested she give it a try.

Authors I would suggest as readalike options for Cline (from experience and in this order of similarity) are Cory Doctorow, Neal Stephenson and China Mieville.

Of course, many readers may want to read more nonfiction about the 1980s.  Use this link for some suggestions.

2 comments:

Tracy said...

I really enjoyed this one too, Becky. And now you've got me wanting to listen to the audio!
http://bcplreviews.blogspot.com/2012/03/review-ready-player-one-by-ernest-cline.html

Italia said...

"Ready: Player One" is, at its core, a treasure hunt. The story follows Wade, a young man who is one of millions searching for a hidden Easter egg buried within a huge virtual world. The virtual world, called OASIS, was designed by a brilliant recluse who was obsessed with geek culture and the 1980s. As such, the book is crammed with references to popular music, vintage video games, films, anime and more.

And I do mean CRAMMED. For the first few chapters, the references reinforce the story, helping create a framework to ground the narrative. But very quickly, everything about this story gets buried under a constant stream of throwback references. The novelty wears off very quickly, and it soon just becomes exhausting.