I got home from work one day and my roommate hands me a book.
“Do you want this? I’m never going to read it.”
And hell, who am I to turn down a free book? I grabbed it and put it on my shelf. Though, admittedly, I did so with a healthy dose of scepticism. My roommate has impeccable taste in books, so when he handed me this one saying that he had no interest in reading it, I wondered if I was even going to like it.
Turns out, I did. Of course. I really am lucky with how many incredible books I’ve read in the last little while.
I don’t know if you can make out that review in the top left corner of the book cover there, but it says that Ready Player One is basically “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix“. I could leave my review right there, because those five words say it all. That’s the basic plot. The creator of a fictional world instigates a competition where the winner is gifted a magnificent prize. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (because that is the actual title of the book originally written by Roald Dahl) that prize was to tour Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory but then Charlie wins the ultimate prize of taking over from Willy Wonka; becoming his successor (no, not a spoiler. The book was released in 1964 and the Gene Wilder movie was released in 1971).
In Ready Player One, the creator of OASIS, an MMORPG (because all of the characters are playing roles), dies and leaves the players of his game a quest: the one to find all of the hidden keys and their subsequent gates, leading to the mysterious Halliday easter egg, will inherit his multi-billion dollar fortune. This is where The Matrix comes in. Ninety-five per cent of this book takes place in an online universe. People live in OASIS because the real world is terrible.
So, basically, that’s the plot. And that snippet of a review boiled it down to five perfect words.
Of course, there’s more to it. Halliday, the creator of OASIS, was obsessed with the 80s and so the entire book is full to bursting with 80s pop culture references, nerd culture references, and everything in between. Even though, when this book takes place, the 80s ended fifty-five years previously. I thought this was brilliant. Because even I, a young adult born in the 1990s, am familiar with the majority of the references made in this book. As would be most everyone who picks this up. The 80s are the middle ground. People in my mum’s generation could relate to this story as well as people in my own. This was a very clever choice made by Cline for so many reasons (all of which should be explored in an essay, seriously. But I just don’t have the space), but the fact that the 80s is an equaliser is probably the most important. So, although this book is marketed as YA (and, according to Wikipedia, won the Alex Award), this book could be enjoyed by all audiences.
And I do mean all audiences. Remember when I said that 95% of this book takes place online? This does not mean that non-gamers would struggle will the content. How do I know? I’m a non-gamer. I mean, sure, I play boardgames and I am part of a weekly Pathfinder campaign (think D&D), but online gaming? I wouldn’t have a clue. What Cline did was to write the book more like a sci-fi or fantasy novel where there’s two worlds: reality and unreality. I come from a massive sci-fi/fantasy background, so it was easy for me to pick up the lingo.
Essentially ,the real world has become a depressing place due to pretty much every dystopian trope you can think of. So everyone lives online in Halliday’s creation, OASIS. To the point where OASIS credits (virtual money) is stronger than actual money. Ready Player One follows the story of Wade/Parzival, an egg hunter (or “gunter”) and his quest to find Halliday’s egg. He has his online friends, an evil corporation trying to take over the competition so that they can control OASIS, and even a love interest. But the plot isn’t overly important.
You know how I always say that there are two kinds of books: character-driven and plot-driven? Well, Ready Player One deserves its own category: world-driven. Because the most important aspect of this book is the setting in which it takes place. The world is impeccable. No detail is left out. Cline thought of everything. Which includes the plot and the characters. Everything in Ready Player One stems from the world. I am of the opinion (because people may disagree with me) that these characters and this plot would not work if taken out of this setting. An argument could be made that no stories could work if the setting was changed, but I don’t think that’s true. Certain characters can be found anywhere. Certain stories can be told the same way in a different place and time. But not Ready Player One. Every single character belongs exclusively to Cline’s world. Their personalities have been influenced by the world in which they live. I know authors who create wonderful characters who are so believable, you feel like they’re sitting next to you. But Cline has made the world the focal point of his story, and as such has created a world in which – I found – everything to be utterly unique to his vision.
Oh dear, I’m closing in on 1000 words again. So, I will leave you with this:
Ready Player One is an intricately crafted world-driven story that is best described as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix“. Although it takes place almost completely in an MMORPG, you do not need to be a gamer to enjoy this book.
Oh, and Wil Wheaton makes a cameo as “the vice-president of the OASIS, and had been re-elected for close to a decade based on his stance of protecting user rights”.