Ready Player One Review
Ready Player One would have made a better movie than novel… under the condition that it had not been written by Ernest Cline. To Cline’s credit, the premise is a lot of fun. How do you write a poor novel revolving around an enormous gaming simulator that mirrors our world and just about every sci-fi and fantasy world conceived throughout existence, in which anything is possible and every nugget of pop culture is contained within it? Well, just read Ready Player One to find out.
When genius James Halliday, creator of the OASIS (the aforementioned gaming simulator), dies, he leaves behind his fortune, and the ability to control the OASIS, to one person. That person? Whoever finds his ‘Easter Egg’ within the OASIS, which requires the player to find three impossible-to-find keys to unlock three impossible-to-unlock gates. After ruining Earth, everybody has turned to the OASIS for escapism and is searching for the keys. However, with the rise of an evil corporation that wants to find the egg so that it can fill the game with ads and make everybody pay a membership to use the OASIS, everything seems to be at stake. It is a pretty cool concept, and if the novel was not bland and conventional I would even go as far as to say that Cline is trying to make a statement on the human race’s reliance on the internet and the growing privatisation of it.
So, what is actually wrong with Ready Player One? Let us start with the protagonist: Wade Watts. You could make anybody in the world your protagonist, and you choose Wade fuckin’ Watts, a poor, nerdy teenage boy that personifies the fedora-wearing ‘nice guy’ stereotype. Admittedly, this is Cline’s target audience, though he misses the opportunity to comment on the stereotype and even subvert it. Wade can do no wrong. Wade is so obviously a manifestation of Cline when he was younger that it feels like whenever Wade does something right and everybody applauds him Cline has literally removed his ribs so that he can suck his own dick. To make matters worse, Wade is not even interesting. He knows a lot about pop culture and has very few friends, and that is it. Other characters do not fare much better either. Aech, Wade’s best friend, also knows a lot about pop culture and is a little mysterious. Shoto and Daito know a lot about pop culture and are Japanese. Art3mis knows a lot about pop culture and is a girl. Sensing a pattern yet?
On that note, let us talk about the female characters for a second. There are two that classify as supporting/main characters. One is written well because she is written like a human and features some, surprisingly, good commentary from Cline (I will say no more to avoid spoilers). The writing concerning Art3mis, however, is embarrassingly bad. Her personality flings from one extreme to another without explanation and, regardless of which extreme she takes, will make Wade seem like a better person. The one independent choice she makes- for completely understandable reasons- results in Wade moping for the next quarter of the novel. Since the narrator is Wade we are supposed to sympathise with him, and therefore Art3mis is written to look rude and cold, yet her motives for winning the competition are by far the most selfless in the novel.
Wade being the narrator is somewhat a large issue also. Not only is he a dull character, but his actions are dull. If we followed Art3mis, 90% of the novel would be taking us, the readers, on a journey looking for the egg (you know, the main plot). Instead we get to see Wade in school, Wade moping around, and Wade’s ego wanking off as he brags about his knowledge on pop culture and how many movies he has watched and how many games he has completed, accompanied by many more pointless moments that take what should have been a 150 page novella (if we followed the main plot alone) and turned it into a 374 page novel. The first 60 pages are quite literally set up and exposition about James Halliday and the OASIS. And therein lies another problem: Cline feels the need to explain every reference and joke that is made, just in case his audience does not understand it. One of the greatest things about the novel is the sheer amount of intertextuality concerning pop culture that is present. Do not know what intertextuality is? Well, it is when one piece of fiction references another. I am practically a God for knowing that bit of information which is why I do not understand why girls find me, a twenty-one year old self-conscious recluse with the appearance of a gremlin, unappealing… and that is how every reference (which is a lot) reads. The audience are treated like idiots.
Cline’s writing is so incredibly rudimentary and without style that you would be forgiven if you thought that Cline made it so, out of fear that his audience would not understand the ‘complex’ references and ideas presented. There is a difference between capturing the voice of a self-worshipping teenager and making something sound like it was written by a self-worshipping teenager. And when you think that the writing cannot get worse, you read the dialogue and want to remove your eyes from your skull via a cheese grater. Insults such as ‘penisville’ are frequent and, again, could be used as ironic, self-aware humour if the novel showed any sign of intelligence. Instead it comes across as unbelievable, and that is coming from somebody who grew up as an unpopular nerd who played a lot of video games and watched a lot of movies as escapism from reality, a.k.a: Cline’s target audience.
At this point, you may be asking: is there anything of worth in Ready Player One? To Cline’s credit, you do feel the weight of what is at stake. Although Wade and his friends are so insufferable that it is hard to root for them, the threat created by Innovative Online Industries, otherwise known as the IOI or the sixers (known to Wade as the ‘sux0rs’- yeah, that is the level of humour we are dealing with here), is personal to the audience and protagonists alike, mirroring the ads, privatisation and pay-to-access-more-content nature of modern day video games and the internet. Furthermore, despite the shallow nature of his character, Sorrento, head of the IOI, is written to be convincingly evil. He is by no means interesting or complex, but he and the IOI are so despicable and oppressive that you cannot help but think of certain current world leaders and join the side of the heroes.
That is possibly the novel’s most redeeming quality outside of the many pop cultural references- especially the over-abundance of 80s nostalgia. I can see through the cheap appeal, yet every bone in my nerdy, anime-loving, sci-fi and fantasy-worshipping body cannot help but gleam when a reference to something I love pops up. There is a surprising amount of charm that its many flaws and constant berating of pop cultural references creates, and, like the OASIS, serves as the perfect distraction from life. I laughed more at the poor writing than I did at the jokes, and somehow could not stop myself from continuing through the novel. It is like hooking up with your ex whilst you are both angry at each other: you know it is wrong but it feels so good.
Reading Ready Player One is like watching in slow motion as you accidentally remove your finger when chopping carrots. Cline takes an interesting premise and makes it, along with his characters, as bland and conventional as physically possible, yet you cling on until the end in hope that things might become interesting. They never do, yet the novel acts as the perfect trashy form of escapism we need from our lives sometimes. With a bit of story editing and somebody other than Cline writing the script, the upcoming film directed by Steven Spielberg (and unfortunately co-written by Cline) could be very enjoyable. Where Cline fails to describe the physical appearance of anything well the film could be visually breath-taking. The action sequences that Cline glosses over, like when Wade fights and kills three dragons in a sentence, could be brought fully to life and hunting for the keys could be exciting. The references can become references that do not need explaining because we can see them and their purpose. The novel, for all its flaws, is written like a movie that Cline failed to get made in 2011. Perhaps Spielberg can do the premise justice in March… but only if he changes everything about the novel.
Ready Player One will be released into cinemas on March 30th