Monday, 15 October 2012

Book #85 Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready, Player One

As regular viewers of my blog will have noted, I've been having a tough time with the books I've read lately. Out of the last six or seven books I've read, I've failed to finish one, found two seriously underwhelming, and outright disliked three. It's become dispiriting.

Therefore I could literally kneel down and kiss the feet of Ernest Cline, because I adored Ready, Player One , I loved every single page of it, and I powered through it over a matter of hours, I can't think of a single thing I didn't love about this book, it's both a thrill to write about and a massive sigh of relief.

Ready, Player One takes place in the none too distant future the earth is over populated, resources are depleting, there's a Global Energy Crisis. In the midst of this James Halliday; eccentric billionaire computer inventor of the universally used OASIS virtual reality computer universe, dies leaving his fortune to the person who can solve the Easter Egg puzzle he has encoded within the vast system.  

Years pass, and the unsolved Easter Egg becomes an urban legend, but many computer geeks still hunt it. They are up against "The Sixers" employees of the dreaded IOI corporation hunting professionally for the egg in order to take control of Hallidays fortune, and the OASIS system, and turn it into a corporate entity.

The genius of Ready, Player One is that while set in a future world within a kind of MMORPG that does not yet exist, the billionaire Halliday was a child of the 80s and the key to the Easter Egg is knowing enough about 80s gaming, films and pop culture  to be able to crack his codes.

So rather than a bunch of meaningless references to things that don't exist in the minds of the reader, Ready Player One is grounded within actual history, it's one long nostalgia trip, particularly for people of my generation.

Our heroes Parzival, Aech and Art3mis live in the 2040's but need to know as much as they can about subjects like the Atari and all its games, the Commodore 64, the films of John Hughes, the music of the period, the developing reflection of computing within popular culture, and they do, because they study it as if it were a religion.

The research in this novel is mindblowingly meticulous, rich and detailed on every level from the years certain games were released to the names of their programmers, no detail is too minor. It makes for an authentic, dazzling experience. It is the nerds dream novel, and there will be many a nerdgasm had over it and much envy from those who share these obsessions and who will wish they had written it. It is a Herculean effort in terms of factual clarity.

As a minor scale nerd, I too gave little jumps of joy when certain obscure references were made and I understood them. For example when "Setec Astronomy" is used as a password and not explained I knew that it came from the 1992 Robert Redford film Sneakers about a group of off the grid hackers and was an anagram found via Scrabble tiles for "Too Many Secrets"  I loved that film, I saw it more than once.

In addition to this rich detail, our characters are great, and uniformly easy to care about, and our baddies, faceless grunts working behind a smarm bucket called Sorrento easy to hate, which means that you root for outcomes and you get excited by developments as well as getting off on all the retro goodness.

I cannot speak highly enough of this novel, I thought it was awesome. If you too were a child of the 80s and you played arcade games and you had an Atari or an Acorn or a Spectrum and you watched these films and you listened to these bands, or watched these shows I think you will love it too. Naturally there's a slightly skewed bias towards American culture, but it really doesn't have a negative effect on the book as a whole. Yes, the outcome is always obvious, it's a hero's journey tale after all, but don't let the inevitable destination spoil the thrill of the journey!

This book is epic. 10/10

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