"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline (2011)
"When it came to my research, I never took any shortcuts. Over the past five years, I'd worked my way down the entire recommended gunter reading list. Douglas Adams. Kurt Vonnegut. Neal Stephenson. Richard K. Morgan. Stephen King. Orson Scott Card. Terry Pratchett. Terry Brooks. Bester, Bradbury, Haldeman, Heinlein, Tolkein, Vance, Gibson, Gaiman, Sterling, Moorcock, Scalzi, Zelazny. I read every novel by every single one of Halliday's favorite authors.
"And I didn't stop there.
"I also watched every single film he referenced in the Almanac. If it was one of Halliday's favorites, like WarGames, Ghostbusters, Real Genius, Better Off Dead, or Revenge of the Nerds, I rewatched it until I knew every scene by heart.
"I devoured each of what Halliday referred to as 'The Holy Trilogies': Star Wars (original and prequel trilogies, in that order), Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Mad Max, Back to the Future, and Indiana Jones (Halliday once said that he preferred to pretend the other Indiana Jones films, from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull onward, didn't exist. I tended to agree.)
"I also absorbed the complete filmographies of each of his favorite directors. Cameron, Gilliam, Jackson, Fincher, Kubrick, Lucas, Spielberg, Del Toro, Tarantino. And of course, Kevin Smith."*
Ernest Cline is an American author and screenwriter. He has written two novels, with a third novel, the sequel to Ready Player One, to be released soon.
Part ode to social anxiety, part love letter to the 1980s, Ready Player One follows a young man's quest to save a virtual world, win the girl of his dreams, and bring an evil corporation to its knees. It is comparable in many respects to novels like The Eden Cycle or movies like The Matrix, though it lacks the existential overtones that made those two other works of fiction so memorable.
The protagonist, Wade, inhabits a world on the edge of catastrophe, wherein our supply of fossil fuels has been exhausted and most people live in crushing poverty. Fortunately for the inhabitants of this world, they're able to retreat into a virtual world called OASIS, in which many compete for an Easter egg hidden by its creator, James Halliday.
All of which sounds interesting, though this book grows extremely masturbatory at times. Early on it becomes obvious that both Wade and James Halliday are stand-ins for the author, and the characters' collective obsession with the 1980s is both mystifying and hard to take seriously.
Imagine being forced to attend a convention on a movie, book series, or TV show that you don't particularly like. Then imagine being forced to hold conversations with various attendees, all of whom can discuss little outside the subject of the convention. It sounds boring, right? Pretending to like something just because everyone else in the room is obsessed with it? Well I'm sorry to say that such an experience would resemble reading this book, and would be about as pleasant.
There were a couple "real events" at the end of this novel that I liked, but compared to other, more noteworthy science fiction novels this book is only distinctive with respect to the amount of trivia it employs. The characterizations are weak, the plot has been done better elsewhere, and the ending is entirely predictable.
I'm guessing that the film version of this book will be quite different from the novel. If so, this will be a good thing, because only those trapped in the most self-destructive kind of 80s nostalgia will find greatness in Ready Player One. I have faith that Spielberg will find ways to make the material better, and if the book has a strength it lies in this very fact: Ready Player One leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Stranger Things, and Growing Up in the 80s
*Just to be clear on our chronology here, not all of these people, places, and things are from the 80s. I think the reason that many of them aren't is the fact that many of the properties the author WOULD have cited were copyrighted, and those owning the copyrights balked at their inclusion in the book.
1. The authors listed in the quote were for the most part common currency in the 80s, with the exception of Gaiman and Scalzi. While Gaiman WAS doing UK comics in the late 80s, his run on Sandman didn't begin until the 90s, and I doubt James Halliday would have been acquainted with Gaiman's work on Judge Dredd. Scalzi wasn't published until the late 90s.
2. The Star Wars prequel trilogy didn't appear until 1999. The Lord of the Rings trilogy didn't hit theaters until 2001. The first of the Matrix films wasn't released until 1999.
3. Peter Jackson DID do a couple films in the 80s: the super underground Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles. I doubt James Halliday, then a kid living in the Midwest, would have ever heard of him until much later in his career. David Fincher (I assume this is who's being referred to) didn't direct a feature film until Alien 3 in 1993. Guillermo del Toro didn't direct anything until the obscure Chronos, also in 1993. In the 80s Tarantino had only directed a single short film. Kevin Smith wouldn't direct his first film, Clerks, until 1994.