In a sense, it’s kind of funny that after doing a post about Atari’s 40th anniversary, I’m writing about a book that references Atari so heavily. :-)
A month ago, I had picked up a copy of Ready Player One at a local bookstore. I finally read it a few days ago, and I have to say, I was very impressed with it. I’ve been finding myself going back and reading sections from the book, and so far it’s become one of my favorite books this year.
The blurb on the front cover of my paperback copy is from USA Today, and says, “Enchanting… Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” While I agree with the sentiment, I would argue that instead of The Matrix, a more appropriate comparison would be to Neuromancer, William Gibson’s classic that helped usher in the genre of cyberpunk fiction. Like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Ready Player One involves a poor student who finds himself taking part in a contest to determine the legacy of an eccentric figure who helped design the OASIS, the future version of the internet. Those familiar with it would compare OASIS to a much improved version of Second Life. Like Neuromancer, on the other hand, the hero must contend with a huge megacorporation interfering with his quest, and having to use multiple methods of hacking to try and make sure the contest is won fairly.
There’s another reason I say Neuromancer is a better comparison, and that is because it was written in the 80’s. Ready Player One is definitely at its core a love letter to 80’s geek culture, with references to everything from classic video games (console and arcade), personal computers of the time, Dungeons and Dragons, and movies such as WarGames. I found myself grinning several times reading the novel, as references both obscure and obvious kept coming. Even a Dungeons and Dragons reference I didn’t recognize was recognized immediately by friends much more familiar with the core game.
Another theme discussed in the book is how people in that future world can create friendships and relationships with people who are thousands of miles away, and yet never meet in real life. I can certainly relate to that theme; I’ve been using IRC for many years, and I have a few good friends who I have never met in real life at all, and several who I see less than once a year. I know of several other friends who are in the same boat. How the author handles it definitely mirrors my own experiences.
I’d go into more detail about the book’s plot and the references, but to be honest, I’m not sure I want to give out such spoilers. I deliberately avoided information about the book before reading it, and I’m glad I did. The numerous geek references became very pleasant surprises as a result. It’s not a very long read, clocking in at just under four hundred pages, and the pace is brisk enough where you won’t find yourself getting bogged down. Also, it’s a self-contained story, so no waiting for a sequel. :-)
All of this is to say that if you grew up as a geek in the 80’s, or have a healthy like of 80’s geek culture, I highly recommend reading Ready Player One.