Drifting in and out of consciousness (oxfordhacker) wrote,
Drifting in and out of consciousness

'Ready Player One' - Ernest Cline

My Week Of Book Reviews (Possibly) makes it into a second day!

Reason for reading: Like yesterday's choice, this is another one from my wishlist. It's much clearer to me why I added this one though.

Synopsis: By 2044 we've predictably fucked the planet's ecosystem and economy, so everyone spends as much time as possible in OASIS: your standard-issue virtual reality environment in which you can guide your avatar through everything from school to work to games. Now, this may sound like a pretty optimistic dystopia, but it exists under a sword of Damocles because the founder of OASIS died and left control of the whole thing to anyone who can solve his riddles. He was a geek who grew up in 1980s, so an entire subculture has grown up around emulating his obsessions in the hope of winning his fortune, and of course an Evil Corporation is trying to do the same so it can destroy this one remaining bastion of freedom. Yes, it's a world in which teenagers (including our protagonist) learn The Breakfast Club off by heart and master Atari 2600 games because it's their only hope of escaping their awful lives.

Review: The problem with this book is that it doesn't seem to realise that adding the 80s to its futuristic dystopia makes it so much more horrifying. There could be a grim humour to a world where retro is the only hope for the future, but this isn't anything like as interesting as that. The quest is transparently and solely a clumsy mechanism for the author to write a world in which everyone still loves the same stuff as him, but with a better internet. This might be forgiveable if he was capable of conveying the joy he's clearly taking in the set-up, but the prose is leaden and the characterisation vestigial, reducing it to a tiresome checklist of games, music and films that feels as if someone tried to graft a plot onto I Love 1983. The most interesting thing about it is the cognitive dissonance generated by a book that reads like it's written for undemanding pre-teens but packed with references that only a 39-42 year old could love. (Out of curiosity, after writing that sentence I looked the author up on wikipedia. He was born in 1972. This was by no means an impressive guess.)

I find myself wondering if I'd've liked it more if it had been pandering to me rather than my hypothetical older brother. Perhaps I'm the absolute worst audience, old enough to be aware of everything it references without having been the right age to be shaped by it... Could you find-and-replace 'Joust' with 'Wolfenstein', 'Rush' with 'Queen' and 'Wargames' with 'Hackers', say, and create something that I would love? It might work, in that most of the references have no purpose except as cultural signifiers so the plot wouldn't be harmed in the slightest. However, even then I don't think the pleasure of nostalgic recognition would overcome the pain of the writing. It contains no subtlety whatsoever, being of the 'tell then show' school. For example:

It probably goes without saying that I had a massive cyber-crush on Art3mis.
She occasionally posted screenshots of her raven-haired avatar, and I sometimes (always) saved them to a folder on my hard drive.
Why do we need that first paragraph (and it is an entire paragraph)? The bit about him saving her photos might be quite neat shorthand if it wasn't preceded by such a blunt announcement of what it means, and the bloody book's like that all the way through. There's no surprise, no wit, and no real challenge beyond the explicitly-artificial 80s necrophilia of the riddles. The setting is flimsy, the characters charmless, the ending utterly inevitable (oops, spoiler), and the path it follows is predictable in all but the frankly somewhat tiresome details.

The blurb: This has garnered a lot of quotes about how geeky and awesome it is, which I can only assume are from people more successfully pandered to than I. They leave me feeling a little left out but not misled or resentful... except for Will Lavender's: 'Here, finally, is this generation's Neuromancer'. Fuck off. It's the Neuromancer generation's Da Vinci Code.

Illustrative excerpt from Amazon review:
5 stars
Arthur Dent, Rush's "twenty-one twelve", Star Wars, War Games, Ferris Bueller, Galaga, Everquest, World of Warcraft, LOTR, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, the Rubik's cube - the references just keep coming; the appearance of Graham Chapman's Arthur, trotting along to Patsy's coconut shells (an African or a European swallow?) was the final, epic cherry on my cake.
Tags: books, review

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