An interesting premise and good world-building let down by a lack of non-virtual stakes. Ready Player One recovers somewhat in Part Three, but too late to get it more than 3/5 from me.
The blurb: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
Ever wanted to spend hours watching other people playing computer games? No? Well that’s what you’re in for during several parts of this book. You’ve been warned.
Most of the action in Ready Player One takes place in a virtual reality universe. As a result, every time the characters are threatened, I didn’t feel the tension. If they are wounded or killed it’s their avatar which suffers and all they have to do is create a new one and reboot. So it’s not surprising that Part Three of the book is the best: a significant part of the action takes place in the real world, and the hero – Wade – faces real risk. It’s difficult to care about characters or their mission if they are invulnerable. And seeing our hero lose some of his credits or magic armour because he takes a hit just isn’t the same as seeing someone bleed.
The book is loaded with references to 1980s’ pop culture. This wasn’t a problem for me. I like geeky stuff and understood most of the references and in-jokes (including one brilliant one about Wil Wheaton which made me laugh out loud). But at times it’s too much. Just tell me it’s an old arcade game and get back to the plot. I don’t need to know who designed it, who he was influenced by and what games spawned as a result. I found myself regularly skipping ahead several pages to find where the action would resume. In fact, I could have skimmed the whole of Part Two and I don’t think I’d have missed much.
The pop culture references also bury some of the book’s most interesting ideas: devastating wars over increasingly scarce natural resources, enormous corporations are taking over the world, and how technology can be both a blessing and a curse. I’d have liked to see more about this and fewer catalogues of early computer models.
Overall: If you can stick with it through its slower parts, Part Three redeems this book and you come away having passed a few enjoyable hours in a well-built dystopia and its virtual utopia. But, from all the hype around Ready Player One, I was expecting more.
Have you read Ready Player One? What did you think? Is it on your TBR? Let me know in the Comments below! 🙂