Book Club in Session: Ready Player One

Ready-Player-One-Paperback-CoverHeather: For our latest book club installment, I chose Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which I hoped would win me some points with my game-obsessed fellow book club members.  Why exactly did I think this?  Well, if the title wasn’t enough, maybe this brief summary will clue you in.  (Be sure to check out the review I posted previously if you would like something spoiler free: here)

In the unnervingly near future, the Earth is a desolate place, filled with pollution and smog, steel high-rises, and even trailer parks resembling teetering Jenga towers.  As an escape from the bleak surroundings, people often log in to the OASIS – an immense virtual reality where individuals can go to work, school, and even hang out with their friends (many of whom they have never actually met in person).  Shortly after his death, the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, released video footage describing a quest he created in the latter years of his life.

Somewhere in the OASIS, Halliday hid an “Easter Egg,” and whoever finds it will inherit his billions, as well as complete control over the OASIS.  This kind of power attracts hundreds of videogame obsessed egg hunters (who call themselves gunters) including Wade Watts, a lonely kid from a trailer park with nothing to his name.  The story is told from Wade’s perspective, and follows the trials and tribulations surrounding his pursuit of the egg (including trying to stay one step ahead of the fierce competition delivered by other gunters, and his battles with a massive corporation who manages to cheat its way through many of the game’s various challenges).

So, in the spirit of the book, are you ready player two for a lively book discussion?  That means you, Lauren (Zach was too cool to help us this time around)!  Oh I guess you need a prompt first…

Heather:  Overall, I thought the book was a quick, fun read (provided you didn’t take it too seriously).  Prior to reading, I assumed that those nerdier than me might actually enjoy the book more since they would understand all the videogame and pop culture references.  Little did I know that it is IMPOSSIBLE to miss any of them, given Cline painstakingly describes the background behind nearly every reference in excruciating detail.  While this was helpful for a game novice like me, it detracts from any special “in on the joke” feeling the reader might have experienced.  Come on Cline; don’t you know inside jokes and insider knowledge just aren’t as fun when they are blatantly described to the whole world?  But perhaps I am just being too hard on the guy…

Lauren:  Heck no.  Quite frankly you might have been a little too nice with your first sentence in the last paragraph.  It had fun moments, but I really was not a fan of how this book was written.  Half of the time I felt like I was reading a Wikipedia page of all things nerdy because he would just list names and geeky references, never really feeling like a writer celebrating the nerd culture as he tries to include everyone else in on the inside jokes, as you call it.  To further elaborate on what I am trying to say, there was once, that’s right, once, that I truly felt like I was reading the work of a fellow nerd, which was when he said: “These ‘wise men’ apparently thought setting up a small shop in the middle of a monster-infested dungeon was a fine idea.)”  Any gamer will get a chuckle out of this comment, but this is the only time this happens.  Every other reference is spent trying to make the book a good time for everyone, spelling out common gamer acronyms like MMO or NPC, and explaining what XP is for those not accustomed to the gamer language.

Not only that, but I personally think he did a poor job setting up the OASIS.  I feel like he spent the first 100 pages mostly delving into lengthy exposition explaining the world’s degradation, aka why there is a need for the OASIS thanks to our incompetence of protecting the world from global warming, pollution, war, the Great Recession (which is in it’s 3rd decade), etc.  And when he was done preaching about this he spent the other half of these pages explaining what the OASIS is instead of allowing our imaginations to build it on our own and just letting us live in it.

Which is why I think this book would have been better set up had it been in the film format.  Then we would get to see everything so that the exposition would get cut down.  Not only that, but had it been a film they would have probably been forced to elaborate more on the exciting moments.  Take the example of when Wade gets sucked into an arcade game in which he must do battle in a dungeon:

I managed to clear all eight levels of the game in just under three hours. The closest I came to death was during my battle with the final boss, the Black Dragon, who, of course, looked exactly like the beast depicted in the painting in Anorak’s study. I’d used up all of my extra lives, and my vitality bar was almost at zero, but I managed to keep moving and stay clear of the dragon’s fiery breath while I slowly knocked down his life meter with a steady barrage of throwing daggers. When I struck the final killing blow, the dragon crumbled into digital dust in front of me.

Now that’s what I call painting a picture… as Picasso would.  It would have been more understanding had he done this more towards the end just to keep the pacing going as was done with the exes in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but he does this throughout the entirety (other than maybe getting the first key).  It’s just frustrating that when he had to collect keys or clear gates it was like it was no challenge whatsoever because he didn’t take the time to write the struggle into the adventure.  There was no immediacy or danger felt, something that is often felt while actually playing games.  And don’t even get me started on Wade’s unending knowledge base that rivals the Internet.

Heather:  Hey!  Don’t knock Picasso just because you don’t understand his genius!  And please don’t give the author any tips on how to make his book more like Scott Pilgrim (bleck!).

It’s funny that you say that Cline got a little too verbose in describing the world, because I felt like he gave just a surface level description of what the OASIS was like.  I think the problem is that he talked so much about the logistics of the OASIS that I failed to grasp viscerally what it would like to actually be logged in to the OASIS.  I couldn’t really picture it in my mind.  Whenever Wade was logged in to the OASIS, all I could really picture was this chunky kid sitting in a chair with his haptic suit and virtual reality goggles on – which wasn’t very exciting.  Cline would have been well served to take a note out of J.K. Rowling’s or Tolkien’s books.  Now those two are pros at giving enough information to paint a picture of their created worlds, and actually laying the foundation for something my imagination could grab hold of and expand on.  In essence, Cline wrote down a lot of words building up the OASIS, they just weren’t the right ones.

Also, I think you were spot on about the way Cline just skipped over the most important parts of the book – and what should have been epic battles and grave challenges were merely glossed over.  How is the reader actually supposed to fear for Wade at all when everything seems to come so easily to him?  I mean, not everyone has the mind of an autistic savant when it comes to memorizing 80’s trivia.  Really, who has time to watch and memorize the scripts of every single episode of The Simpsons in existence (that would take years to get through!)  Or memorize the lyrics to every 80’s song (even obscure ones) complete with a stalker-worthy knowledge of the artist’s complete life history?  It’s just not realistic, unless he has special superhuman photographic memory powers… which apparently he doesn’t, if he had to watch and rewatch movies and TV shows over and over again.

Lauren:  Fine, no Picasso digs.  How about Joan Miró, does that work for you?  And I don’t need to give any ideas to the author about making this more like Scott Pilgrim.  That whole extra life at the end is right from the pages of those books.

As for the OASIS, I was trying to say that he didn’t do too great of a job at describing the OASIS past its technical level of how it works, just clearly my lack of vocabulary and range of words like “verbose” kept you from understanding my meaning.  Silly Heather and her higher levels of education.

Heather:  Oh I get it; you said he was too wordy in describing the world apart from the OASIS, and not the OASIS itself.  My bad!  In that case, I agree!

Personally, I think the author should have spent a little more time immersing the reader in the OASIS or focusing on the interesting parts of the quest itself instead of fixating on Wade’s lust for Artemis.  Ugh.  I HATED their relationship.  I have never felt the urge to gag more in a book than when I was reading the instant message session between the two of them. Really, what nerd talks in that “slick as a fox” way that Wade does when he is talking to Artemis?  It was like he was channeling Howard Wallowitz from the Big Bang Theory (except even more repulsive!).  I was actually hoping for the love story to fail because I found it so repulsive, which is odd since I am usually a sucker for a good romance.   And if I thought the way Wade acted around Artemis was sick, the way Aech talked was almost worse.  Aech seemed to talk the way some douchbag wannabe doing a “cool guy” impression would.  It just sounded forced and not the way people actually talk at all.  Character-wise, I thought the only bright spots in the whole book were Shoto and Kaito.  What did you think of the characters?

Lauren:  Don’t you mean Art3mis with a 3, like F.3.A.R?  Cuz that’s how all the cool kids write it.  I agree completely with you.  Other than Shoto and Kaito, I think the only other character I was really interested in sticking around was Ogden Morrow because they were something more than the stereotypes we were treated to.  Let’s just break down how Wade is described: overweight (he can barely fit into his XL haptic suit), acne ridden, unfashionable (granted he is poor), has trouble talking to girls in real life, is bullied, with Star Wars trivia as a specialty (though really what isn’t a specialty for him?  He seems to know everything, and I mean everything).  Ok, so one character being a stereotype is one thing, but oh wait, there’s more!  To further cement the idea that the OASIS is an escape, the other main characters are made up of a larger, black lesbian (who’s avatar is a male), a couple of Asians, and a girl with a giant birthmark on her face that cripples her self-image.   I don’t know about you, but I really do think it is time to move past the idea of the nerd that he is propagating because it is far more diverse of a group of people than he seems to want to acknowledge, filled with people who aren’t ashamed of who they are.  Which includes girls that are more than willing to make their avatars look like them, or at least realistic, might I add.  Not all of us are obsessed with creating absurdly thin or top heavy avatars, as Cline seems to believe.

Heather: Whatever all my avatars have crazy enormous nunga-nungas!  Which is completely reflective of my real life physique.  Oh wait… I don’t have avatars because I choose to live my life in the real world (Bazinga!).  And speaking of living in the real world, as I mentioned in my review of the book, the little “Full House” moment at the end of the book was a little too much for me to handle.  Halliday tells Wade that his biggest regret in life was being logged in to the OASIS all the time living his virtual life instead of living his real life.  If that really was his biggest regret, don’t you think he should have perhaps created a challenge that didn’t require contestants to pretty much devote their entire existences to living in the OASIS?  That part really rubbed me the wrong way.  I suppose he could have come to that conclusion after he had already created the challenge, and by that point it was too late to go back and change things.  He also gave wade the power to terminate the OASIS with the push of a button should it ever be necessary.  What do you think will happen in the future?  Do you think a time will come when Wade decides to shut it all down?

Lauren:  Yeah, old man Halliday should have hit the button.  He was dying anyway, so it’s not like all the OASIS users could break out their torches and pitchforks and come after him.  They’re probably too lazy to do that anyway.  It was definitely a copout though, something you would think he might put in his will or something instead of leaving the choice up to a teenager who he is hoping will come to the same conclusion that he did.

As for what Wade will do, I don’t really care.  I think it was Zach who mentioned that they should have spread this out over more books, or even one with far more pages, which would have further cemented this world as something that the audience would miss if it were gone because the author would have hopefully fleshed the OASIS out more.  But as it stands, there really is no danger of me getting choked up at the thought of seeing it go.  Press the button, Wade!  Press it!

Heather:  Well you never know, maybe someday we will see a sequel and the fate of the OASIS will be revealed, although I doubt it.  I just hope for Art3mis’s sake that real world Wade isn’t as annoying as OASIS world Parzeval.  Good riddance.

Heather’s Final Grade: Although I would have originally given this book 4/5 stars immediately after finishing, this discussion has brought to light a number of qualms that unfortunately lower my overall rating.  Thus, my final rating is 3/5 stars.

Lauren’s Final Grade:  Same here. The more I think about it, the more unsatisfied I am with it, thus it gets a 2.5/5 from me.

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