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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

I wasn't very interested in Ready Player One when it was first published and in the years that followed. I'd known several readers who gave it very high praise, but I wasn't convinced. The reasons they supplied rested primarily on nostalgia. It sounded like the kind of story I'd love to snub, but, I admit, I was curious. I figured I might pick it up if I made it through the books I really wanted to read. (But that day would nevercome.)

One might imagine that the turning point came as a result of the forthcoming film adaptation of Ready Player One. The movie trailer has been quite popular in recent months. Many are picking up the novel for the first time. For me, it wasn't the movie trailer. My reason: my library is currently doing a community read of the novel and as I passed by a table filled with a hundred copies, I went with a whim. (Rather spontaneous of me.) I picked it up and started reading.

And I hated it.

Seriously, I. HATED. IT.

I don't abandon books often, but I was freakishly close to abandoning Ready Player One. I was seventy or eighty pages in. Not only was I bored, but I was angered. This was terrible writing. The plot was contrived. A flurry of action was followed by ten pages of info-dropping. Our protagonist goes on an endless rant about religion that has nothing to do with the plot. Why? Because clearly the author wants us to know how he feels about religion. Irrelevant. The world building was chaotic—oh yeah, it's the future, so much has changed, but only things that relate directly to the plot—everything else has remained the same. Apparently, we as a society have reached the height of interactive virtual reality, but still deal in basic ATMs, message boards, YouTube, laptops, and parcels and pizzas delivered by humans. Lazy. Uninspired. The story was unbelievable. No one could do the things these characters were doing. We're supposed to believe that people in their early twenties could tear through every bit of significant pop entertainment of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and somehow have time to scour over much of it hundreds of more times. No world that is in such desperate need for energy is going to waste such vast amounts of energy playing 8-bit video games. Somehow, this is supposed to save the world? Ready Player One sells itself as some brilliant vision of the future, but in reality it is a preposterous, self-absorbed fantasy by a nostalgic author with a major fetish for the 80s. Ugggghhhh.

I was so close to abandoning this novel. Why didn't I? One reason: I didn't have anything readily available to read in its place. I told myself I'd pick up another book next chance I got, but in the meantime I'd read another chapter to two, just to have something to read.

And then the bastard of a book pulled me in.

How sucked in was I? I'm almost embarrassed to say that I tore through this book. Like the next 300 pages in 24 hours. Does this mean the story became more plausible? That some deep meaning was unearthed in the OASIS? The juvenile writing improved? No. It means that I, a literary snob, was pulled into the... the... action of the story. Dare I say, the action was riveting. The story was... fun.

But it was fun the same way eating an entire package of pre-packaged cookies is. You know you can do better as far as taste. You know you should do better in regards to nutrition. But you can't stop. Your fat cells are screaming for more and it's all you have in the way of sweets. Okay, maybe that's a bad analogy. A more apt analogy might be... it's like a video game. Or binge watching your favorite series. You know there are a million ways you can better spend your time. You know that when you reach the end of your life, you're probably not going to say, “Dang, I wish I'd played more Dig Dug.” But you're enjoying yourself; what's the harm in that, right? Maybe.

That's what it is to read Ready Player One. It's low on substance, but it's a good action story. I wanted more from it and, had I known how it would turn out, I probably wouldn't have read it in the first place. But I don't regret reading it. It was enjoyable in its own way (but now I need to go on a reading diet).

Before I close, I'd like to take a moment to address one final thing about Ready Player One. While Cline may have had the best intentions in heart, his inclusion of a “heavyset African American” lesbian left me very uncomfortable. Why? It felt horribly, horribly forced. To me, this seems an example of someone trying to be inclusive who just doesn't get it. Whether the author was trying to be all-embracing out of the goodness of his own heart, or merely satisfying political correctness hoping it would find him readers, I cannot say for sure, but the portrayal is insensitive at best. The attempted message seems to be “look at the character, not the skin,” but how it's delivered is more of a message of “isn't technology great? Finally, everyone can be a thin straight white male!” Ugh. Like I said earlier in my review, the future is completely different, but it sure does look an awfully lot like 2011 to me: people live in stacked trailers, the world has run out of fuel, virtual reality reigns in the OASIS, there are only six Star Wars movies, one Blade Runner movie, and too many people just don't get it.

Ready Player One is a novel that I would normally award no more than two stars to. It failed in regards to the characters, the setting, the plot, and the prose—all lacked exceptionality. But I had so much fun. And I guess that should count as something.