If you’ve read the title and clicked through, then you can probably guess that I’m not a fan of Ready Player One. However! According to Goodreads, I’m in the minority. So if you love this book, don’t worry! A lot of other people do too.
Ready Player One is one of those books that’s just drenched in nostalgia bait. It’s like Stranger Things, but without the spooky atmosphere and 3 dimensional characters.
Okay, okay. I’m really jumping the gun here. So let’s start with the basics. Ready?
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
[August 16, 2011]
The Pitch: The world has gone to hell and people lose themselves in a virtual world where capitalism rules. However, the game’s creator has left a treasure hunt that can only be solved by loving and living the 80s.
Thankfully, Wade Watts, our scrappy down on his luck protagonist has an encyclopedic knowledge of 80s stuff. But will he get the girl and save the game?
4.26 out of 5 on Goodreads
Ready Player One is another book where I’m going to have to do a separate spoiler review on it. Just like Shine, the premise has a lot more promise than the book delivers on. There are a lot of cool things that can be done with a digital world that could serve as a commentary on capitalism. With a poor, down on his luck protagonist and a group of misfits, this could have been a strong story that borrowed from the 80s instead of embodying it.
Instead, Ready Player One is shallow. It’s a self-indulgent trip back through what the author misses about the 80s. It doesn’t examine itself in any way and ends up being exactly what it doesn’t want to be. Wade is supposed to be deeper than the shallow people around him, but he’s not. It’s supposed to talk about looking past skin deep, but it doesn’t really do that either. It has a few very cheap reveals that feel tokenistic at best.
The biggest problem is that there’s a critique of capitalism and corporations in this book. In theory, that sounds great, right? But the book is lifting up the 80s as an amazing time to be alive. The 80s was a time where capitalists ran rampant and corporations were almost aspirational. It’s known for corruption, drugs, and policies that still have ramifications today.
Even worse, Ready Player One lifts up and drools all over 80s media and consumer culture. It loves capitalism in one breath and then tries to point out its shortcomings in the next.
How Ready Player One falls short of its potential:
Ready Player One is a self-indulgent nostalgia trip and nothing more. The world tries to bring in issues such as class struggles and global warming without fully understanding them. It ends up making them cheap and is closer to a transformers cartoon than any real commentary. I feel like the book has its heart in the right place, but trips over its own feet.
Because it has all this cool 80s stuff to show us! Are you hyped yet?! Are you?
It’s hard to make a book that’s anti-corporate and anti-capitalist that reveres 80s culture. I wish that it had dropped the anti-corporate, class struggle subplot altogether and just made it so Wade Watts was an average kid on this adventure. The poverty he lived in wasn’t explored to its fullest extent and didn’t impact his life in a way that couldn’t be done through other means.
By the way, it makes a big deal about the game Joust and talks about how the 80s had the best of everything…
This is Joust.
Are you telling me this better than the Witcher 3? Because I’ll fight you.
How Ready Player One fails its characters:
Like its themes, the characters in Ready Player One are shallow, but attempt to be more.
There’s Art3mis who’s the only named female character for most of the books (yes, I know, read the spoiler review it’ll be in there). She’s a strong, independent woman in that token kind of way. The #girlboss tropes that people use as a substitute for an actual character.
The instant you meet her, you’ll be able to guess some of what’s going to happen. The other characters are similar and revolve around Wade.
Which sucks, because Wade is just the worst. Pretentious and lecturing, we’re supposed to be in awe of how much Wade knows about the 80s. Instead, he comes across as a person who would interrupt you with a “uhm actually”. It’s not fun to read about someone who knows all the answers.
The other people in the novel are stereotypes. You’ve got the best friend. Then there’s the Japanese kids who feel like they were written by someone who learned Japanese culture by watching the Karate Kid movies. And last, but not least, you’ve got the evil corporate boss.
All of my complaints about themes wouldn’t have mattered if the characters were better. I could have gotten lost in the world and cared about what happened.
But nah. There are 80s things to reference. We don’t have time for real characters.
Who Should Read Ready Player One?
If you’re someone who loves the 80s in a big bad way, then you will probably like Ready Player One. So long as you like simple characters, then you’ll be fine. If you can just immerse yourself in the world, you’ll love this book. The world is the best part.
It’s just unfortunate that Wade Watts is such a tool.
Offline, the people I met who loved this book the most were middle aged white guys who would have been in their early teens in the 80s. So if you’re someone who grew up with 80s, you’ll probably be able to coast on the nostalgia.
However, I’m a 90s kid. So… yeah. Can’t recommend it.
1 out of 5 from TrulyBooked
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