If you’re looking for an easter hunt this April, let me suggest an unconventional and geeky one? An Easter Egg hunt in a virtual world, perhaps?
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One has been an unexpected and surprisingly exhilarating journey. Before I get ahead of myself and explain why this is so, let me outline the premise of the story, for anyone interested in knowing what this novel is about:
Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian futuristic world where society has been laid waste with a spiralling economy both perpetuated and exacerbated by a virtual world called OASIS created by two programmers, Halliday and Morrow, i.e. to escape the sad circumstances of the world, humans go into the virtual reality of OASIS to entertain themselves, shop, even go to virtual school – yet at the same time, in doing so, they neglect the circumstances of the world they live in. The plot of the story begins when one of the creators of OASIS, Halliday, dies and, in his last dying will and testament, he sends out a video that states that whoever is able to find three keys and three gates which leads to his easter egg will inherit his entire fortune.
That’s me summing up the plot as best I can. But honestly, the plot is only partially why I found myself so engrossed by this novel. (And the extent to which I was engrossed found me writing this review at 10pm on a work night when I should be sleeping – and when I haven’t even finished the book to begin with – don’t worry, I finished it before completing this review and submitting it here.)
I did not find myself just immersed in the life and journey of Wade Watts, a gunter (egg + hunter) after Halliday’s prize, but I also found myself strangely immersed in the 80s pop culture – despite the fact that Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045 – and despite the fact that I am a 90s kid myself.
I found myself constantly using everything at my disposal to try and get a full recreation of the world Halliday lived in – in other words, I found myself in Wade’s shoes, trying to be in Halliday’s shoes.
I googled so many references to 80s Atari games. I youtubed every single song that was mentioned in the novel and put it into a playlist – all 26 of them strung into two and a half hours worth of playback. I even went and did research on the easter egg hunt of the novel itself while reading about the easter egg hunt for the book. I found out that Cline was also the genius behind the film Fanboy, which I loved, and that Wil Wheaton is the narrator of the audio books, which I loved even more.
And it was strange to find myself somehow patting myself on the back when I noticed small details in the novel – like how the numbers 655321 of Sorrento are not arbitrary but are also the numbers that belong to Alex in A Clockwork Orange: “you are now 655321 and it is your duty to memorize that number.” (And believe me, I have memorised it – I wrote those numbers out of memory).
And then I found this gem of a poem by Ernest Cline himself stating how he would watch that film over and over again. (Trust me, you need to hear this!)
If you want to get the full picture of the number of allusions Ready Player One makes, here is a nice put-together list by Shmoop.
But enough about me geekily gushing the research I did alongside this novel. And let me get back into the atmosphere.
When it comes to Ready Player One you need to have your suspension of disbelief with this novel as any other – like how in the world does Wade get the time to watch all those 80s movies at least two dozen times? I mean, I’ve watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (NOT Sorcerer’s Stone) at least two dozen times, but that was ‘cause I was obsessed and I watched it every day for two straight weeks. Sure, he was an exceptionally lonely boy, but how in the world does one manage to watch all those 80s movies AND listen to all those 80s songs AND conquer freakin’ Pac-man in your short eighteen years of existence?!
Personally, I didn’t find the 80s chunks an overload. I, personally, missed out on the 80s as a child. I missed it exactly by a year. I didn’t get the chance to experience Atari and the old arcade games. So I had only a faint knowledge of the films that were spoken of and almost absolutely no clue on the games – except probably the more canon ones like Pac-man and Street Fighters.
So, because of this, I didn’t mind that Cline rattled off paragraphs of 80s pop culture knowledge. But then again, I knew that was what I would get when reading this book, so I was satisfied. I learnt a lot of new terms and mythology.
Lastly, this novel was not all about the references it made – although many reviews may publicise it in this manner (such as mine did to begin with). At the heart of it, I believe that Cline captured a scary reality that many of us are or will soon be facing in the chilling near future:
We are alone, and our isolation was caused by none other than ourselves.
This novel essentially is about a boy with no parents, no friends – nothing to call his own. And at the height of his fame and popularity in the virtual world (no spoilers intended), Wade still realises that, after logging out of the OASIS, he is still alone.
The friends he make in the virtual world, they too are shockingly alone. Art3mis has no parents and no friends; Aech, under all the bravado, is just seeking some attention and acknowledgement; and the two Japanese boys, they too are surprisingly isolated. Humanity has regressed into herself and is imploding – slowly, but surely.
As a reader, I realised halfway through the novel that the OASIS that I first praised as something ingenious, something state-of-the-art, something I achingly desired in our world (a combination of Facebook, MMO gaming and the oculus rift) is in fact an ugly thing.
It is a living embodiment of everything we humans are capable of, yet somehow, something we should also never want to attain. Because in creating these castles in the sky, we abandon ourselves from the earth we first rose from.
So, personally, this Cline’s novel has become instantly one of my favourites – I believe it was worth a lot more of my time than the Divergent series and (sorry, Mr. Green!) Looking for Alaska (in my defence, Fault in our Stars, still takes the metaphorical cake). But to each, their own personal taste.
So who would I recommend this book to? I would recommend it to the nostalgic kid born in the 80s – you and Cline can give each other a lot of high-fives, to any video gamer or geek out there who takes pride in the hours they’ve clocked in in MMO games and arcade games – you’ll love the gaming format and stages, someone who likes huge backstories and rich historical and pop cultural references, and probably to anyone who loves a high-speed quest-like chase in a tech-dystopian world.
Who would I NOT recommend it to? Someone who would rather not read about 80s facts that appear to be copied and pasted in huge paragraphs, someone who prefers a story that is more character depth and dialogue than narration, and probably someone who wants to solve the mystery of the easter egg with no clue on 80s references to be able to solve it (and who would just get frustrated in the middle because of this).
And if you need any more convincing, here are a couple of review sites and such so you can make up your mind:
I really wish I could cover in more depth how much this book affected me in such a short span of time reading it, but then this post might end up its own novella of a sort because of it.
So, till next time!