Ready Player One: Looking back at Ernest Cline’s Novel

Steven Spielberg and the printed page have always gone well together; from Jaws, to Jurassic Park, to Minority Report and Schindler’s List, a good source novel has always had a way of allowing Spielberg to deliver the goods, from commercial success to award wins.

For a director who has been venturing more into Academy Award winning and critically acclaimed territory, it seems rather apt that for a director who cemented his career with an adaptation of a Peter Benchley shark thriller, and hit a box office peak with a dinosaur thriller from Michael Crichton source material, that in his return to the realm of popcorn blockbuster, the famed director would turn to a best-selling novel.

Ernest Cline’s novel of Ready Player One has, in a day and age when geek culture has become very much mainstream, become a massive best seller. Set in the future of 2044, a dystopian future where the earth has been waylaid by an energy crisis and overpopulation, the only means of escapism is the OASIS, a virtual reality world created by famed video game designer Mark Halliday, who has died and left his fortune to the first person who discovers an Easter Egg hidden somewhere within his vast creation.

As a piece of world building, Cline’s novel is exemplary, and with Halliday’s obsession with 80’s culture, the OASIS is awash with settings, props and elements taken from a plethora of movies from the era, hence references throughout to John Hughes, George Lucas, to various pop bands, MTV and, a lovely ironic touch, the works of Spielberg himself.

Initially met with acclaim and popularity, it has in the last few years, particularly with the build up to the forthcoming movie, ended up inciting a hostile reaction, and the book has ended up drawing the ire of criticism and hatred.

The book is a hugely enjoyable read, for the most part, with a vivid universe, and a geek friendly narrative that draws on a love of stories that involve a quest hunt, numerous pop culture references and characters who aren’t exactly the most sociable, although brilliantly the book could also be seen as an exploration of our present times as we escape our own world and terrible news cycle by falling into social media and You Tube videos, a virtual world less vast than the one in Cline’s world obviously.

However, it can be very easy to see how Cline’s novel has, especially in the time span of the last few years, worked some readers up the wrong way.

It’s celebration of geek culture is commendable, but it can also sometimes get way too distracted by wanting to place lists, or overly explain its references. It’s ability to throw in sets and reenactments of things like John Badham’s WarGames is brilliant, and very enjoyable, but for someone who isn’t particularly geeky, it could come across as annoying.

Cline has thought up such a brilliant world, and his explorations are wonderful, but there are inherent flaws throughout; halfway through the book becomes a little stagnate, especially when it devotes more time to the relationship between its two central characters; Wade and his virtual avatar Parzival, and Art3mis, who we rarely see in the real world and mostly as an avatar, something the movie is said to change (Cline is credited as co-writer alongside Zak Penn).

The egg hunt seems to stall in order to spend time with them, and while this is commendable as a means to further the emotional component of the story, in truth it feels like it gets in the way of what is supposed to be the Easter Egg hunt to end all Easter Egg hunts, and almost seems to only be there in order to give the story a  level of emotional angst that it hasn’t really earned, or even needs.

The villains are represented by a mega corporation called IOI who want the Egg so they can control the OASIS and thus charge people to use it.  Represented by Nolan Sorrento, they are formidable villains, and when the book picks up pace in the last third again, complete with a daring plan by Parzival to get incarcerated by them, one really gets the sense of how powerful and dastardly they are, especially when they strike hard against one of Wade’s friends in the real world to stop the Egg from falling into the hands of those who would keep its access free to all.

If you’ve come here to read an account on how terrible the book is, but how it could make for a great film, then you’re not going to get it here. Ready Player One is a very enjoyable read for the most part, and while it does lose focus in its middle stages, it could be said that it represents Wade’s lack of focus too. Failing to spend as much time with Art3mis in the real world is an issue, but it does come about because the book is told in the first person from Wade/Parzival’s point of view.

Like it or hate it, Ready Player One is very much a book about the now, and who we are now; it celebrate the nerd, while telling a story about how much humankind has chosen to lose themselves in the world of the internet and the virtually real. While it isn’t as complex a read as those themes might sound, it does have those themes, and while it may not be the greatest book ever written, it is one with much to enjoy.

If you hate it, you hate it, and that’s fair enough, but there are worse things out there and while it does what it does in the way that it does it, it’s not surprise that a director whose work the books celebrates is the one that is bringing it to our movie screens.

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