/ Mark Frauenfelder / 10 am Mon, Aug 15 2011
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  • Ready Player One: the best science fiction novel I've read in a decade

    Ready Player One: the best science fiction novel I've read in a decade

    (Read a PDF with the first three chapters of Ready Player One.)

    It seems like every decade or so a science fiction novel comes along that sends a lightning bolt through my nervous system: Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971). William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984). Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992). Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003). And I recently discovered what my mind-blowing novel for the 2010s is: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

    Cline’s first novel starts out in the year 2044. The Great Recession (the same one we are in right now) is in its third decade. Unemployment is higher than ever (there's a two-year wait for a job at fast food chain restaurants), liquid fuel is extremely scarce, the climate is in awful shape, and famine, disease, and poverty are rampant across the planet.

    The story is told by Wade Watts, an 18-year-old orphan who lives with 16 other people in trailer near the top of a tall stack of trailers in a crowded, crime-ridden trailer park on the outskirts of Oklahoma City (the suburbs are deserted, because hardly anyone can afford to buy fuel to travel by car). He doesn’t remember his father, who was shot by cops who caught him looting a grocery store for food after a power outage. And his mother overdosed on adulterated drugs when he was a kid. Wade now lives with his hateful young aunt and her creepy, fresh-out-of-prison boyfriend. They allow Wade to live in the trailer only because he's worth a weekly ration of food vouchers.

    Wade spends most of his time in an abandoned van in a nearby junkyard, where he uses his school-issued laptop to stay jacked-in to a Snow Crash-like metaverse called the OASIS, which was created in 2012 by a brilliant game programmer named James Halliday ("a nerd uber-deity on the level of Gygax, Garriott, and Gates"). Halliday's OASIS is used all day by everyone with access to a computer, and according to Wade, it changed "the way people around the world lived, worked, and communicated. It [transformed] entertainment, social networking, and even global politics. Even though it was initially marketed as a new kind of massively multiplayer online game, the OASIS quickly evolved into a new way of life."

    I'm not spoiling anything by revealing that the reclusive Halliday dies early in the book (We learn that in the first paragraph). But before Halliday dies (of cancer) he announces to the billions of people who use the OASIS that he has created a treasure hunt inside the virtual reality universe. The first person to complete the quest (by finding three keys and retrieving a hidden Easter Egg) will inherit his entire fortune, valued at $240 billion, and will be placed in charge of the OASIS.

    The contest is quickly dubbed The Hunt. Millions of egg hunters (“gunters”) devote every waking hour to solving the quest, either solo or in clans. The gunters study everything they can about the 1980s (which were the formative years of Halliday and important to solving the clues). The gunters become experts in the comic books, movies, music, science fiction and fantasy novels, movies, role playing games, and video games of the era.

    Because the stakes are so high, people invest all their time and money to solving the riddles left by Halliday. An evil corporation called Innovative Online Industries —- which has long had designs on taking over the OASIS and ruining all that it good about it -— has an entire division (the Department of Oology) with thousands of employees looking for the egg.

    But after five years of fruitless searching, interest in the contest fizzles. Only a few thousand diehard gunners, including Wade, continue The Hunt.

    Then Wade finds the first key and the entire world goes batshit.

    Wade's discovery sets the stage for the rest of the novel, a rollicking, surprise-laden, potboiling, thrilling adventure story that takes place both in the OASIS and the real world. It is loaded with geek-culture references from the 1980s that resonated strongly with me — but they are all integral to the story and never feel gratuitous. You don’t need to know about 1980s pop culture to appreciate the story. I loved every sentence of this book, and was a little sad when I reached the end and re-entered reality. Ernie sent me some advance reader copies of Ready Player One and everyone I gave a copy to told me they loved it. My friend John Park took it on a vacation and read it, and he was about to give it to someone who was interested in it, but decided to keep it so he could reread it again immediately! I'm going to reread it again myself.

    I interviewed Ernest Cline via Skype video, where he spoke to me from his home in Austin, Texas. Here’s the video

    Buy Ready Player One on Amazon. It comes out on August 16, but if you pre-order it today, maybe you'll get it sooner.

    / / COMMENTS

    / /


    1. I’m surprised you liked this book so much, Mark. I own a book store, so I’ve been reading an advance copy of Ready Player One, and I’m about half way through. I certainly like all the 80s trivia, but the author’s depiction of the online world’s economics, navigation of cyberspace, interface hardware, and imposed limitations really seems poorly envisioned and arbitrary. Maybe I’m jaded from just having finished Neal Stepenson’s REAMDE, which was stellar, and dealt similarly with an MMOG. At any rate, I’ll reserve my opinion and finish the book.

      1. Can’t wait to read README! 

        The parts of Ready Player One that bugged you aren’t the kinds of things that bother me. I loved the plot.

      2. So your brilliant marketing plan is to take a book that is getting huge buzz and could be a big seller in your book store and to start panning it before getting through it.  Good idea.  

    2. Gotta say I’m with Aaron, unless big changes have been made since I acquired a digital ARC from Netgalley. I’m only about a third in, but I’ve been utterly baffled by some stuff, considering the sources that have recommended the book. For ex: it’s set in the 2040s. In the first few paragraphs, Cline mentions a
      death being announced on “the evening news,” and the deceased being
      pictured on the cover of “TIME magazine.” A console is described
      as being about “the size of a paperback book.” Cline devotes a LOT of
      space to describing the OASIS, the virtual universe most of humanity
      spends time in (“The OASIS became such an integral part of people’s day
      to day social lives that users were more than willing to shell out real
      money to buy accessories for their avatars”–*shocking*!), as if Second Life hadn’t
      been around since the mid-2000s. Cline also seems to assume the reader
      is NOT the “ultimate nerd fanboy,” but a total noob: a blogger (yes,
      blogs, like the evening news, are still around in 2040) is introduced as
      “Art3mis (pronounced ‘Artemis’)”. I had high, high, high hopes and they are being d4sh3d, d4sh3d, d4shed (pronounced ‘dashed’).  [Ahh, but wait–I just downloaded the pdf mentioned above and the nightly news on television is now “video feed”…so it looks like some things definitely were changed.]

    3. I’m not understanding the complaints – I haven’t read any of it, so I’m in the dark here.  Why are blogs and Time Magazine bad?  (I’m not being snarky, I’m just honestly in the dark.)
      Are there sample pages anywhere?

      1. If something’s set more than so many years in the future, everything will be different, right? That wanting of difference and distance is a big part of science fiction’s appeal; people won’t watch scheduled content, they won’t wear suits, they won’t consume (or they will consume to absurd excess) the same things we do today. RP1’s ‘teleological nostalgia’ seems to be like grime in the gears to some folks, and I wonder if that’s not why.

      2. @anotheraaron:twitter , there are 3 chapters in pdf form at the top Mark’s post. And I’m sorry, I should’ve provided context: I’ve seen several comparisons of Ready Player One to Neuromancer, Snow Crash, Down and Out, etc–and what made those books so cool (I thought) was that they were going where the world hadn’t already gone. There was worldbuilding, future-pondering stuff in them and the reader’s brain had to race to keep up. I was expecting, I guess, a 2040 that didn’t look so much like 2011–I was expecting a mental challenge, hoping to be played with. I was expecting more thoughtful science fiction, and what Ready Player One has felt like to me so far is as if James Patterson had decided to try his hand at science fiction…none of the concepts are mindblowing; the settings have just changed. I’m not usually a book basher at all; this just really disappointed me considering the reviews from folks I’m usually right there with. I started a blog post about it this morning, and called it “Tomorrow’s Anachronisms…Today!”

        1. You know Emily, I agree with you.  Mark’s love aside, and based on those first 3 chapters, this prob. ain’t the next Snow Crash or To Your Scattered Bodies Go.

          This actually reminds me more of the movie “Super 8.”  It agrees with my 42 year old self cause it’s hitting right square in the “80’s were so awesome” vibe.

          But I also agree that reminiscence isn’t what you hang a three act structure plot on.  That of course was the central flaw in Super 8.  Could it be for this as well?

          I haven’t read enough of it to be sure.

        2. I searched for “Tomorrow’s Anachronisms…Today!” and only found this: http://blogs.hbr.org/anthony/2008/10/tomorrows_anachronisms_today.html. Looks like someone  swiper your headline and went back in time :)

          1. LOL, Mark–I never claimed *I* was original–not surprised someone’s come up with that before. Right now mine’s just sitting as a draft in Blogger. I hate panning a book & don’t necessarily want to finish reviewing it (beyond comments already posted here). But the blurbs from Scalzi, Rothfuss, etc., up on Amazon now–they do make me feel like a counter-review should be made. I will be interested in Cory’s thoughts if he decides to read the book & post on it. I do feel like For the Win, Makers, etc., have plenty of the future spice I’m finding so lacking in Ready Player One but perhaps can’t describe well. Someone above mentioned Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe–that book, for me, had good future spice.

    4. Read the post anotheraaron, there’s a link there.

      I liked the story I read in the PDF but I do admit it did take me out of the story a second when it talked about the evening news and other not-quite-right artifacts. 

      That being said, I’m buying this sucker just based on the description of the guys video last will and testament.  That shit was hysterical.

    5. I pre-ordered it for Kindle too, merely on the strength of the Boing Boing review. It’d be nice if my blind trust and $$$ earned me a 1-day-in-advance download, especially as there are already people reading it who DIDN’T pay for the privilege. 

      1. @boingboing-50cce8f9d38eee7b6f71a6d51c071e4c:disqus The thing about those free advance copies for those of us who “DIDN’T pay for the privilege” is how you’re able to read advance reviews, get early buzz and have people telling others to read something before it even comes out.  I’m a bookseller for an independent bookstore and our early reads, comments, and reviews have bigger sway with the publishers and the publicists than the big digital A has, in terms of marketing dollars.  That’s how Water for Elephants became such a huge hit – little stores were hand-selling it like mad, pushing it on everyone, nudging it into bestseller-dom.

        We (and our free copies) are also how you get to meet authors, like Ernest Cline (in Milwaukee at Boswell Book Co. on 8/29 @7pm).  When we read, love, review books, we get the authors so that you, the reader, get to meet them face-to-face, have conversations, get your books signed, get a photo, shake a hand, etc.  So, no, we “DIDN’T pay for the privilege” but we damn well earned it.

        Your book probably landed on your reader yesterday and I hope you had as much FUN reading it as I did!!

      1. I agree and personally, I enjoyed Deamon and Freedom(TM) more than Ready Player One, but they’re both really good novels. Can’t wait for REAMDE.

      2. I’ve been thinking the exact same thing! Technically, I’ve been thinking “This sounds like a half-ass attempt at what Daniel Suarez was able to accomplish with Daemon and Freedom(TM). Great books…

    6. Just finished writing my own review. Can’t say that Ready Player One is the best SF I’ve read in a while (the Spin trilogy was pretty fantastic) but it is certainly one of the most fun books I’ve read in a long time.

    7. I’m with Emily Lloyd on this; the value of the best near-future fiction is the ability to suggest a future that you’d never thought of, yet seems so obviously right. If a book’s set in 2040, I expect it to seem as different from today as today does from 1980… or to have a convincing sense of why not.

      Snow Crash did this for me from the first page – a million details I would never have thought of, yet seemed obviously consistent once read. (Smart skateboard wheels… and a corollary bike version. Realtime battlefield minigun software patches. Sovereign franchises!)

      I’ll be reading this anyway, though. Even if it’s not revolutionary, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. (I think my genre-breaking revolution for the decade has already gone past, anyway; it was Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn.)

    8. in case you haven’t seen it, Ernest Cline made an awesome video showing off his Delorian.  it is nerdgasmworthy.

      Looking forward to reading the book!

    9. Seems like another take on the “everyone is jacked into VR and the real world is a mess” story idea. Not my thing, maybe someone else’s.

      (And I second the comments about how the future tech isn’t as different as I would expect 30 years from now – aside from the OASIS virtual world, people are still using email, IMs, websites, laptops with external removable storage, TV shows, etc. for the same kinds of things they’re using them for now).

    10. WHOEVER did the cover art for this — PLEASE go read up on the difference between lossy (JPEG) and lossless (PNG) image compression.  For high-contrast images (i.e. nearly all non-photographic images), you should NOT use JPEG.  JPEG was not designed for such high-contrast scenes, and it produces some extremely noticeable compression artifacts at high-contrast boundaries.

      I’m sorry, I know this is nerdy, but I deal with images a lot.  When I see an image that has been compressed poorly, when I see enormous and obvious compression artifacts, I feel pain, and I hate your product.

      Go, read, use PNG, and sin no more.

    11. It seems to me that the continuing recession would be a damn good reason why things aren’t so different.  It costs money to advance and change.  If unemployment kept rising for 30 years, do you really think the average person is going to have wetwear implants and tipped out cybergear?  For that matter, do you think they will even if the economy is incredible?  One of my biggest complaints about near future SF is when they have flying cars and regular tourist trips to the moon set 5 years in the future.  That’s absurd.  Life in 2044 is going to be fundamentally the same as life now, just (some of) the toys will be shinier.

      I haven’t read this but will do so, based on Mark’s recommendation.  And, honestly, based on the complaints as they sound more like good things about the story to me.

      Actually, I bet each of you $5 that time magazine and the evening news are both around in some form or another in 30 years.  Look me up in 2041 to collect!

    12. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, so I decided to kill the remaining hours until dawn by brushing up on a few coin-op classics. Galaga, Defender, Asteroids. These games were outdated digital dinosaurs that had become museum pieces long before I was born. But I was a gunter, so I didn’t think of them as quaint low-res antiques. To me, they were hallowed artifacts. Pillars of the pantheon. When I played the classics, I did so with a determined sort of reverence.

      This and similar paragraphs rather killed it for me. The unforgivable sin of genre fiction, the tell-all scene, in which the narrator’s voice–always hyperaware, always learned, always brimming with contemporary references, and always speaking to an audience (us, the reader)–gives us essential information that would otherwise be better shown, and perhaps would be shown in another, better book. Granted, the gunters are devotees of 80s culture, but instead of seeing this, we’re told about it an a kind of essayistic prose that reads like some of the late Foster Wallace’s writings on county fairs and such like. And would they still be called “coin-op classics”? (Does the narrator know what “coin-op” is, does he use coins as currency?) If they’re “hallowed artifacts,” why does he use them? How are they kept hallowed, working, clean? Why does the narrator, who ostensibly lives in a different world than ours, sound exactly like one of us if we were to write about the coin-op classics of our youth? Where’s the sense of him living in a different, felt, three-dimensional reality that is similar to ours yet vitally different? (Like, where are the slangy words that we don’t have for these things? Where’s the loving description of the mechanics of coin-operation, which would create a different sense of the machine, a wondrous sense of its mechanics, that we might not share? Where’s the sense of the numinous, the frightening, the holy, that might surround such an object?) Would a gunter really think the phrase “pillars of the pantheon,” or is this what the author thinks, and wants us to think, and rather than generously show us how this is, merely states it?

      A similar sin would be the pages-long infodump that begins on p26: again, we’re told, in rather uninteresting prose (the “candid talk I’d wish I’d had with an adult” is not a terrific premise, sadly), what’s happened to make the narrator’s world the way it is. A long, tedious exposition, as if citizens of any given historical period thought about their lives this sequentially, this orderly. Again, instead of being show how things have changed, we’re told about them having changed.

      My generation had never known a world without the OASIS. To us, it was much more than a game or an entertainment platform. It had been an integral part of our lives for as far back as we could remember. We’d been born into an ugly world, and the OASIS was our one happy refuge. The thought of the simulation being privatized and homogenized by IOI horrified us in a way that those born before its introduction found difficult to understand. For us, it was like someone threatening to take away the sun, or charge a fee to look up at the sky.

      And again, exposition and broadly-delivered narrative (some of it distressingly close to summary, as if it came from the author’s notes), instead of ethos, plot, characters doing things in situations, dialogue, etc. It feels kind of mean to pick out bits like this, but, yeah, I think I’m with the other doubters on this: even given genre fiction’s lamentable habits of telling over showing, this is a bit uncooked for my tastes.

      That all said, Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar is being reprinted, and goes on sale tomorrow! W00t!

      1. The unforgivable sin of genre fiction, the tell-all scene, in which the narrator’s voice–always hyperaware, always learned, always brimming with contemporary references, and always speaking to an audience (us, the reader)–gives us essential information that would otherwise be better shown, and perhaps would be shown in another, better book. Granted, the gunters are devotees of 80s culture, but instead of seeing this, we’re told about it an a kind of essayistic prose that reads like some of the late Foster Wallace’s writings on county fairs and such like. 

        You think it’s an unforgivable sin of genre fiction to use a voice that sounds like David Foster Wallace? Wallace is generally more respected for his prose and voice than most authors of genre fiction.

        And would they still be called “coin-op classics”? (Does the narrator know what “coin-op” is, does he use coins as currency?)

        It’s only 33 years from now, pretty sure that unless the Singularity and/or apocalypse happens by then, they will still be using coins as currency (would you prefer the narrator mention that he was at first puzzled by the word “coin” which appeared in the historical cyberfiles, as everyone nowadays uses credits, or “creds”, which are tabulated by their biomorphic wetware compu-implants?)

        If they’re “hallowed artifacts,” why does he use them? How are they kept hallowed, working, clean?

        If you read a few paragraphs further you’d see he was just talking about playing these old games on his computer, not using an actual bulky arcade machine…in fact that very next paragraph mentions that he was curled up in a sleeping bag in a tiny laundry room, and a few paragraphs later he says “I pulled out my laptop and powered it on … I booted up my emulator and selected Robotron: 2084, one of my all-time favorite games”

        Why does the narrator, who ostensibly lives in a different world than ours, sound exactly like one of us if we were to write about the coin-op classics of our youth?

        Again, only 33 years from now. Have you read any novels from the early 80s/late 70s that featured hyperaware young narrators using a hip ironic tone? They don’t really sound much different than a modern narrator of that type. For example, read a few pages from Bright Lights, Big City from 1984, here’s a random paragraph from one of the first few pages (the whole book is in the second person):

        You spot a girl at the edge of the dance floor who looks like your last chance for earthly salvation. You know for a fact that if you go out into the morning alone, without even your sunglasses–which you have neglected to bring, because who, after all, plans on these travesties?–the harsh, angling light will turn you to flesh and bone. Mortality will pierce you through the retina. But there she is in her pegged pants, a kind of doo-wop Retro ponytail pulled off to the side, as eligible a candidate as you are likely to find this late in the game. The sexual equivalent of fast food.

        Where’s the sense of him living in a different, felt, three-dimensional reality that is similar to ours yet vitally different? (Like, where are the slangy words that we don’t have for these things?

        Why would new slangy words have developed for antiquated technology? Do we have our own new slangy words for 50s style jukeboxes? 

        Where’s the loving description of the mechanics of coin-operation, which would create a different sense of the machine, a wondrous sense of its mechanics, that we might not share? Where’s the sense of the numinous, the frightening, the holy, that might surround such an object?)

        Like I said, if you read a little further it’s clear he doesn’t actually have a physical arcade game. But even if he did, do you feel a sense of “the numinous” for stuff like an old jukebox, or to use an example from closer to 33 years ago, a rubik’s cube?

        Would a gunter really think the phrase “pillars of the pantheon,” or is this what the author thinks, and wants us to think, and rather than generously show us how this is, merely states it?

        “Pillars of the pantheon” is the sort of over-fancy sounding phrase often used by ironic hyperaware narrators who only sort of mean it, much like “last chance for earthly salvation” in the quote from Bright Lights, Big City above.

        1. I do think it’s a sin for a writer to be confused about what he’s doing. To have the narrator of a fiction sound excessively like an author surrogate, a commenter on the world he’s a part of, and all this without any compelling trick of style or plot or character motivation for being so, is a bit lazy, I feel. Again, instead of a fully lived-in and realized fictional world, we’re getting author’s notes and bare exposition in the guise of a character’s backstory. Sounding like Foster Wallace isn’t bad, that wasn’t my point: but sounding like one of essays is rather bad, I feel, in this context. (Also, comparing this with Foster Wallace is a bit of a stretch.)

          Comparing the author with Jay McInerney is unfair to both: McInerney’s choice of narrative voice is motivated, and the words are written well–there’s a snap and drive to even the part you picked. Not just the narrator but the prose is self-aware, playful, suggestive, alive: in the book under discussion the prose is rather flat, dull, expository, baggy, but with the added fault of the narrator knowing a bit too much, explaining a bit too much.

          Do we have our own new slangy words for 50s style jukeboxes?

          Fridge, car, TV, plane, yes we do have those words. They needn’t be sci-fi slangy, or refer to wetware credits or any of that (hyperdetailed jargon is another terminal sin of genre fiction). Your point is taken, but again, where’s the sense of awe here? (I do myself feel all glowy numinous when handling old tech, btw.)

    13. woot charles yu wooot f.u. ernest cline is an sf poseur – doesn’t know how to live in a science fictional universe

    14. Seems to me there is a break between nostalgia and story telling, between hip-nerd-cred and good writing, between loyalty to one’s community (or should I say tribe?) and legitimate prose.

    15. Sooooo … where might I buy that book in a non-DRM’ed electronic format (preferably EPUB)? Anyone?

    16. It is a great book.  If you want to read a fun and enjoyable novel get this book.  All of the haters in these comments are nitpicking, pompous, losers who haven’t read the whole thing yet feel the need to spew their uninformed opinions on the web based on a few paragraphs.  Seriously, why would you listen to someone like that?  It is a FUN science fiction book that you will not regret.  Make sure to not purchase it from Aaron Lyon’s bookstore though.

    17. This book needs no further marketing plan, Darren–it’s gonna sell like hotcakes and a few comments on BoingBoing won’t change that. It’s been hyped for months, the film rights are bought, and a lot of big-name, respected scifi types have reviewed it glowingly. 

      Ready Player One IS a fun and enjoyable novel. A Da Vinci Code-type book, with its fast pace, riddles, racing quest, etc.  But mine and others’ comments above aren’t nitpicking. They’re about this book in relation to the books it’s being compared with, and likened to: Neuromancer, Snow Crash, etc. If reviewers were saying “Ready Player One is a fun romp,” it’d be one thing. But those titles specifically are a kind of book that Ready Player One simply is not, not at all.

    18. I agree that the book seemed all too familiar to me. 

      It starts off like Daemon, blurs into Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and then takes a detour into Idlewild (the first book in a Nick Sagan trilogy which I recommend for those who missed it). It was almost as if each chapter was referencing another literary source. That combined with the other pop culture and gaming references made me feel like I was reading something I’d already read.

      Of course that may be because we’re reading the set up, and once the action’s set in motion it may all change. I find the start of a book just doesn’t seem to be a good place to weigh the work from.  When I buy books, I open them to some random middle page, read a few lines and decide from there. I know and like Ernie Cline’s other work, and have been looking forward to Ready Player One. I hope that there are some twists and surprises lurking inside.

    19. Seriously, Down and Out is a revolutionary novel on a par with Neuromancer and Snow Crash? Even here at Cory Inc. I didn’t think the idolatry would extend that far. Maybe Perdido Street Station (which I would argue is SF, not fantasy, for the rigor of its alchymical system if nothing else), A Fire Upon the Deep, or even The Windup Girl.

    20. I loved the book Mark and spent the afternoon reading it (Damm you!). On my kindle cloud woo hoo. Anyway I had no real expectations when I decided to read the book. I found it an irresistible page turner, damn good thing I work from home. The eighties obsession was really fun for us old guys. I also liked the OASIS uni. A very fun read. I will recommend it to my friends. IMHO a very good candidate for a screenplay it has all the elements.

    21. I inhaled this book in one long breath. I loved it, but it is geekbait of the highest order. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but 80s/anime references mixed with tech jargon mixed with MMOs?

      It was a fun book.

    22. What’s interesting, Emily, is that 2044 is only 33 years out from 2011.  Looking back, 33yrs ago was 1978.  The world has a lot of things that have changed, technologically, but we’re still not *that* different than we were in 1978.  That’s a bit of a wink and a nod there to the 30-somethings who find the most childlike joy with RP1.

      1. Stacie, I’d argue that we’re ridiculously different than we were in 1978 (and, for that matter, 1998). I’m not talking about clothes and hairstyle and universal human struggle. I’m talking about the fact that my kids always know where their friends are at all times, that they can listen to any song or watch any video they want any time they feel like it (I spent most of 1984 calling DJs to request “One Night in Bangkok,” then holding a cassette player up to the radio to tape it), that you can broadcast to the world that you just walked into your local Starbucks, that you can take a video with your phone, that we don’t all get the news from the same newscaster (and sometimes get the best news coverage from average citizens on the other side of the world), that you can communicate with thousands of strangers without submitting to a publishing house and hoping you’ll get picked from the slush pile, that you no longer wonder what ever became of that cute girl in your 5th grade class–you know exactly what became of her, and maybe even what she had for lunch today. I think these are truly huge differences–our ideas of what we can have and what we expect and what we need to know have changed, what we spend our days/time thinking about (the very thoughts we think!) has in many ways changed [though of course there are always common, universal struggles]. To be honest, it’s hard to imagine 2044 will be as different from 2011 as 2011 is from 1978…I can’t conceive of what all those new differences would be (that’s why I admire authors who can and do).

    23. OK, so it’s a couple days later and I’m all done now. I stand by my earlier comment, the book feels like a lot of other things I’ve read all thrown together. That’s due in part to the nature of the book, and would probably serve it well in translation to movie form. In fact, I think that’s where this could really shine. This could definitely be a fun visit to the theater – with a good soundtrack included.

      I agree with the people who had trouble because of inconsistencies in the protagonist’s voice. For example, when he describes his school he mentions that it’s a, “no-PvP zone, meaning that no player-versus-player combat was permitted,” and then a bit later, without stating where the robot name is from, makes the statement, “my eyes would scan the lunchroom like a T-1000,” and then only a few pages later he assumes the reader knows the term “noob” when he says, “There wasn’t much to do on Incipio except chat with other noobs…” (These are all quotes from the downloadable chapter material. No spoilers.)

      It’s like he can’t decide if his audience is tech/gaming/sci-fi savvy or not. Defined information felt remedial, and he’s supposed to be telling the story to a future Earth audience, where the net and immersive technology are all-pervasive. It makes no sense. Someone older than him in 2024, even a 65 year-old, would still be totally familiar with the basic ideas he’s taking the time to define. Anyone younger would have been raised in the culture. I think it would have helped Cline to talk to a bunch of 12-year olds. They all know what a “noob” is and what “PvP” means, and this is 2011.

      “And would they still be called “coin-op classics”? (Does the narrator know what “coin-op” is, does he use coins as currency?)” 

      I meant to respond to this question with some info about nickel arcades. Old school games may not be able to compete with the higher-res, more immersive games out today, but they have nostalgia on their side. Games that were once a quarter, you can now play for a nickel – if you know where to go! That’s in comparison to those $1/play games at some other locations. At those locations, you may need to buy $1 tokens (like at a movie theater). Either way, coin-op’s are still around.


      1. Try clicking through on the link at the top of the page, and then right click to download. (The file name contains periods and may be causing problems if you’re trying to download from here.)

    24. This was a really enjoyable, facile read for me.  Sure, it’s not Neal Stephenson, but the writing and story are really aimed at “young adult” readers.  Through that lens, the predictable (but still satisfying) plot and archetypical characters are easy for me to forgive.  A lot of criticism seems to be coming from folks that want this book to be something it isn’t trying to be; serious, adult science fiction. If you’re looking for something sophisticated, this isn’t for you.  But as light reading, I friggin’ loved it!  

      1. I wasn’t looking for it to be complicated, just original. Instead it felt like deja vu. Visually it wouldn’t look that way. Some of the imagery could be really interesting, and that’s why I said I fully support the idea of it as a movie. (Trying very hard not to include spoilers here.)

        Even as a young adult book (which I knew it was), the inconsistencies I found problems with stand. I think today even young readers will be put off by someone assuming they don’t know basic concepts about mmo’s and the net. After all, this generation is growing up with them as a part of their lives. I know four-year-olds who play on the internet and G4 is a nationally-available cable station. 

        It doesn’t ring true to say that in a future world a narrator will need to explain about computers and define gaming terms when they’re already an all-encompassing part of our lives today. Including those definitions may turn off some younger readers – especially teens – just because they’ll feel they’re being spoken down to. Add in the the fact that some more complicated terms (“overclocked” appears later in the book) don’t warrant a definition and the reader may get confused by the tone of the narrator. (Why explain “no-PvP” but not “overclocked”? The first term is more commonly used. Maybe a glossary was necessary so def’s could be looked up if needed but not interrupt those who were reading at a higher level?)

        So, I didn’t love it. I had problems with the basic construction of it, and not just for adults.

        1. I see where you’re coming from, and i do think the writing is occasionally hampered by the author’s (or perhaps the publisher’s) desire to reach a very wide audience.  Some of the dumbing-down seemed unnecessary and it is certainly inconsistent.  But that wasn’t a deal-breaker for me.  I totally agree that the movie could potentially surpass the book though!

    25. Aaak, I gotta stop coming back. In reply to Mark Yoshi (and catgrin): no, this is not a young adult book. It’s not being marketed as one and the list price is significantly higher than YA books. But more importantly, there are TONS of intelligently-written young adult books! Writing for a YA audience in no way means needing to dumb down things or pander to them. If RP1 was rebranded as a children’s or teen book, that wouldn’t make its foibles somehow less foible-y. It would simply be a not-very-good children’s or YA book. A great YA book about a similar topic? M T Anderson’s Feed, published in 2002, which still feels fresh and visionary, remarkably prescient, today (and might even in 2044).

      1. Actually, I thought a lot of the specific dumb-downs were probably for the sake of older, less tech-minded readers; not to pander, but for accessibility.  

      2. If you visit the web site foreveryoungadult (direct link not posted due to conflicts with BB system, please google), you’ll be able to find both a review of the book AND an interview with Ernie Cline who seems to be fine with the book being identified as YA. The book is written at a level that meets standards for YA lit, and has several other reviews online as such. 

        I think it may be the book’s existence somewhere between adult and YA lit, and no solidly addressed audience age range that is causing the issues with the protagonist’s voice. I also agree YA lit should not dumb down information for its audience, and I worry that those changes in tone could alienate some readers, in particular tech-savvy teens.

        1. The system thought that you were a spammer. The URL in the previous comments does look a bit like a porn title.

          1. Thanks for the clarification. I was only worried it was a human action because it would post me and then delete several minutes later. I’ll edit my post to remove 1st and last  PPs. Feel free to delete this, and thanks again.

            1. Having a working spam filter (for the first time) is a treat. It rarely catches non-spam, so I don’t check it that frequently.

            2. It’s the first time I’ve posted a link that it’s thought was illicit. Really had me worried (and confused) for a sec! I hope I didn’t come off as a whiner. I could only chalk up the deletions to two things: the link or a human disagreeing with my content. So, I ditched the link and posted the way I did. I’m not surprised it thought “foreveryoungadult” wasn’t on the up-and-up ;)

    26. Sorry, but it is a YA book, and is being marketed that way. This E. Cline interview for foreveryoungadult.com (the site also reviews the book) should lay that to rest. If not, just spend a bit of time googling Ready Player One Young Adult, and you’ll find many others.


      It seems this book wasn’t always intended to be YA, but at times just feels like a quick adult summer read. That inconsistency is the point I’ve been making all along. The book really doesn’t seem to know who its audience is. It addresses first one type of reader (a person with no tech knowledge at all) then another (a person who has information about classic sci-fi movies and games). I don’t excuse the foibles, no matter who they’re directed toward, and I’ve got no reason to believe a teen audience would excuse them either.

    27. I enjoyed the read, but  you have to realize it’s not high literature.  it was a fun read.  I read it in a single night,  which speaks to something about it.  I’d jump on the “It’s no Neal Stephenson Novel!” bandwagon, but have to acknowledge that “The Big U” exists.

      It plows through the mundane retro nostalgia, without the mind-numbing scientific detour, which usually totally kills the flow of a perfectly good action book.

      I was actually just going to accuse the site of plugging the book so much just because Cory got a namecheck.

    28. OK – I’m frankly stunned that my comments have now been REMOVED- TWICE!. With no explanation. 
      Here is what I said – this book is junk. I read it on the basis of boing boing’s recommendation and it was really not at all good. RP1 = ((Diamond Age + Charlie and the Chocolate Factory + VH1’s I Love the 80’s) – a brain). This is what I wrote. I received several likes for my comment and then they were taken down. WHY? Could a moderator explain it to me, because I’m frankly baffled.

    29. I loved the book.  It’s not so much a sci-fi book as a near future book with some enhanced tech that makes the story possible. 
      I loved that it was a fanboy dream of nods to so many great things from all genres but that it expanded beyond my geeky interests. 
      It was a fun ride.  I liked as much as the Harry Potter books and the Uglies series.  I’m think the article was a bit of hyperbole and that may be some of the disappointment others had. 
      I’m glad I bought the hardcopy  and I may buy it for some of my friends who I know will enjoy it. 

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