Ready Player One — Ernest Cline (Book Review)

NOTE: I am fully aware that at times in the review below, I sound like a ridiculous book-critic or something. I do not care. Also, links to Amazon contain my affiliate id.

Ready Player One

A few weeks ago I attended the New York TimesTimesOpen Open Source Science Fair on behalf of Automattic/ As part of my “thank you” bag, I got a copy of Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. I left it on my bedside table in a stack of other books which I’d thus far neglected to start, let alone finish (not to mention all the unopened titles on my Kindle).

On Friday night I ended up in bed and not tired enough to sleep, so I picked up the first book on the stack and started reading. A few pages in and I was already hooked. I ended up blazing through the whole thing over the weekend and just have to write a quick review/endorsement/call to action. If you were born anywhere in the 70’s or 80’s, or remember anything about the 80’s with the vaguest fondness, go and get this book and read it. It is that good.

It’s a cross-over science fiction/fantasy/nostalgia novel, set in the future against the backdrop of a global reality simulation, with a twist of the past and a sprinkling of the present. This simulation has been turned into an epic videogame where the stakes are no greater than the future of the gameworld itself, and arguably the future of humanity. That’s where the nostalgia kicks in — through a twist of history and by the hand of one of the core characters (who happens to be dead at the time the novel is set), the entire world is obsessed with 80’s pop culture.

Pac Man? Got it. Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Yep. Rush? Yessir. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Joust? Galaga? Highlander? Cyndi Lauper? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times and many more, yes. This book is a thrilling and delightful romp through everything that was good (and some of the things that were bad) about the 80’s. I found myself plowing through the pages, excited for what memory would be rekindled next, only to be one-upped every time with more than I could have expected. The characters are at times a little stereotypical or formulaic  as perhaps is some of the storyline. The core plot premise perhaps borrowed a few threads from Dan Suarez’ Daemon, but honestly — who the hell cares? None of that matters when you’re having this much damned fun with a book.

Mixed in with this trip down memory lane are some astute observations on where we’ve been, and quite clearly, where we’re heading. The (de)evolution of trailer parks, the effects of climate change, social stigmas and the power of online anonymity. Net neutrality, corporate interests, open source and the effects of celebrity-like fame are all part of the picture, sometimes good, sometimes not so much. Whether you read it for it’s social commentary, for a simple trip down memory lane or just for frakking good time, it doesn’t matter. This book is worth every minute.

I won’t spoil the story by discussing the plot too much, just go and read it for yourself already.

PS: As part of a promotion for the book, Cline gave away a real life DeLorean via a competition staged similarly to the main concept of the book. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.