needs more demons?

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Ernest Cline: Ready Player One

17 Mar 2012 · No Comments

In Ready Player One, an eccentric multi-billionaire’s will leaves a jackpot to whoever finds an easter egg hidden in his ubiquitous virtual reality environment. The primary hallmark of the multi-billionaire’s eccentricity was an obsession with 80’s geek culture, and so in Cline’s not-so-distant future, retro geek culture is perpetuated by fortune hunters looking for clues to the easter egg in John Hughes movies, 8-bit video games, and such. Cline incorporates a fair amount of more-or-less realistic tech extrapolation — I’m in no hurry to beta-test goggles with lasers that draw directly on my retinas, but they’re in my news feed, not just in this novel — seasoned with the sort of amped-up, super-saturated spirit of, say, the pizza delivery scenes in Stephenson’s Snow Crash. There’s also a dash of political consciousness — the physical milieu has a cautionary post-global-warming, post-economic-meltdown, if-we-don’t-clean-up-our-act-this-could-come-to-pass vibe, and Cline makes it clear that his Good Guys represent the neutral, open Internet and that the Bad Guys stand for walled gardens, DRM, and oppressive user agreements (again, if-we-don’t-clean-up-our-act-this-could-come-to-pass). (Real-life free ‘Net geek heroes Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton even have cameos.)

But mostly this is just an unabashed love letter to everything that was nerd-cool before nerdishness was cool. At times I thought it was a little heavy on exposition — dude, you can just say it looks like Rivendell, you don’t need to explain what Rivendell is — but then again, Cline was much more into giant flying robot shows than I was, so I appreciated some context there. I suspect that if you’re in the core demographic for this — i.e., you were a nerdy teen for some portion of the 80’s or early 90’s — there’s going to be a pretty fair amount of muttering “well, duh,” under your breath, and a handful of references that you do need some help with. I even found myself wondering why some key (to me, at least) aspects of 80’s geekdom had been left unreferenced; in one case the answer turned out to be that it had been saved for a major upcoming plot point.

I had mixed feelings about the novel. The material Cline is paying homage to clearly defines the plot arc, so fairly quickly it’s clear that there’s no suspense around the outcome, only around how it is achieved. And “how” doesn’t always provide that much tension; at various points (deliberately, perhaps), Ready Player One has the feel of the “cut scenes” in video games after you clear a stage — little animated respites in which you sit back and watch the plot smoothly advance. (See, that’s the kind of exposition you probably don’t need if this book is all-caps FOR YOU. Duh, of course you know what a “cut scene” is.) I would probably have preferred sharper satirical teeth, and a less respectful attitude toward the more formalized elements of the works Cline draws on. But if I wished it had a little more heft, it was definitely a hoot, and I think it’s overall a strong showing for a first novel. Provoked lots of delighted little giggles when things like [SPOILER REDACTED] popped up.

I’m definitely left curious to see what Cline comes up with next.

needs more demons? I’ll go with “no,” not “maybe.” But a bit of a judgment call, that.

Tags: c-author · r-title

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