Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Crown Publishing Group, 2011; audio book narrated by Wil Wheaton released the same day)
Introduced by Joshua Wilson
When I first got Ready Player One as an audio book, I didn’t quite know what I was getting. I knew it was a dystopian novel, which isn’t really my favourite kind of story, but it made up for this from apparently being about a kind of virtual reality simulation. I also knew that in involved some kind of hunt for something hidden in the game and so, finding this concept to be interesting and knowing the film was coming out soon, I decided to give it ago. What I didn’t know was how perfect this book was for me.
I’m a nerd, and this is a book written by a nerd, about nerds for nerds. The premise isn’t just looking for a hidden feature in a simulated reality, but finding and navigating hidden ’80s pop culture references in a massive video game.
The plot focuses around the OASIS, which is the simulation in question, which is peoples’ main means of escaping from the depressing world that earth has become. When the creator dies, he leaves behind his fortune to whoever finds his easter egg in the game. This sets off a massive hunt which the main character gets very in to putting him in competition with many other players and the corporation IOI who want the prise money and control of the OASIS for themselves.
What makes the story great is how it balances the fantastical with the serious, down trodden nature of real life.
While in the simulation, we feal as if our characters are unstoppable, outside it they are just normal people who could but put in danger by their actions in the OASIS. It can lower the stakes a little as a result, particularly towards the end, but it makes up for this with the real world sections that are filled with tension and reminders of how powerless the main character really is.
I must admit, I probably mostly enjoyed this story because I am a nerd. There’s just something so satisfying to be reading a section about text adventure games and to understand the significance of the term “xyzzy” or to be hearing a description of all the research the main character has done for the hunt while thinking, “What about the Simpsons?” Only for that exact question to be answered in the next line. Knowledge is power in this world, and when you read this knowing what they are talking about, it allows you to escape into that world and feel powerful.
For someone who isn’t so into pop culture however, a great deal of the book would be lost. Sure, they could appreciate the dystopian and romance sides of the novel, but the video game, film and books on where the plot hinges would hold no significance.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who has a love of pop culture. It doesn’t even need to be everything. I definitely didn’t understand most references this book made, but just knowing they were references made me smile. It puts the dystopian setting into a context where not everything needs to be bleak and pessimistic and ends up telling a deeper tale about escapism that I think most enjoyers of stories can relate to.
Joshua Wilson is a student at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford. He recently did a work experience placement with The Story of Books based in Hay-on-Wye.