Book Review – Ready Player One

It’s been close to a year or so, that I first heard about Ready Player One. Ladies of Nerditude (shameless plug for these girls – Episode #25: Book Review #2) reviewed it on one of their podcasts. I didn’t listen to the whole episode at that time. They warned of SPOILERS, but I didn’t know anything about the book, so I listened on for a little before I thought I might enjoy it. (I’ve now listened to the whole thing. It’s fun. You should check it out.)

Then… I moved on, forgetting about it entirely until I saw a trailer for the movie. Okay, maybe I should look into this book again.

…but I’ve been rather busy with edits and writing and redoing my house, so I didn’t think I had time to read. BUT… I did have some Audible credits… and WHAT?? Wil Wheaton reads it??? I hit BUY before I really thought it through, and regret nothing.

….and this is another reason why authors should love me, because I don’t just like to listen, I like to read it. Reading is experiencing, using my eyes, so I started to listen, but then had to go buy the book too, so I could read it at night all snuggly in my bed. So, I basically bought the book twice! You’re welcome, Ernest.

This review is on BOTH!

Ready Player One is – one word – FUN! This book appealed to my nerdy soul. I had asked a few friends about reading it and I got mixed reviews. Some thought it was awesome, some couldn’t get into it. I now understand why. There is a very deep-rooted level of nerd that this book reaches, not only gamers or RETRO gamers, but those growing in the early experimental personal consoles and arcade venturing folk. This book hits so many pop culture references that I felt like I was transported back in time watching commercial after commercial. Toys in cereal, Family Ties, Holy Grail, Votron, Rush… every genre-defining 80’s reference was crammed into this book. I feel the author channeling Halliday’s nerd obsession. I can see how some of my gentler down-to-earth friends couldn’t get into it. It’s not for them… but, this book was definitely for me.

The eighties were my fundamental growth years, living in a small home with three older brothers. We didn’t have much, but we did have a ColecoVision.

I remember the year we got it. It was Christmas and we were all so excited. When we opened it, inside was a brick, not the game system at all. My dad returned the brick back to the store and exchanged it just to find another brick in the box. It took us DAYS to finally get our ColecoVision, but once we did, it was MAGIC! The only games we had were Donkey Kong, Venture, and Smurfs – but seriously, they were SO much fun. We grew in our collection and I get pretty good. (My sister STILL has most of our Coleco Vision games and we retro game sometimes. Any time my nephew starts talking smack about being better at video games than me, I pull out Q*Bert and make him play. Games without cheat codes, save spots, and online buddies to co-op.)

This was just the start. I grew up surrounded by games: Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation… my favorites are still on the Dreamcast (Revolt) and PS2 (Timesplitters 2 is still SO MUCH FUN!) and I’m stupidly good at the Sega Genesis original Sonic and Sonic 2. (The world of Sonic has exploded beyond my gaming rations, but I’ve got those two down.)

My gaming has waned over the years, devoting time to book writing and kid rearing, but some of my best times and memories surround sitting at a console and playing with my family and friends.

So… when I first started listening the Wil read Ready Player One, I really had no idea how deep in my childhood it would reach.

Ready Player One is set in a virtual reality-based world placed in a bleak future. The best way to escape is through plugging into the OASIS. Wade Watts is written after my brother Nathan, the BEST video gamer there is, so you know. We would watch him for hours, and he’s still has amazing dexterity and can cream you easily at any game.

So, when I started reading this cyberpunk dystopia, the last thing I expected was a trip back in time. The entire book is jammed with references to every 80’s nerd pop culture reference there is.

When I was listening to it, usually in the car, I had a good time capturing back memories that I had completely forgotten about. This became a problem, since I would get lost in headspace and not pay attention. But, I got to a point where I didn’t want to miss anything, so that’s where I bought the book. I would revisit the chapters I had heard, bonding with the pages and the reading on. It probably took me longer because I reread a bunch. But I loved both ways.

Wil Wheaton does a great job at reading the book. He is perfectly cast. And any time Star Trek: NG was mentioned, I giggled, like all the rest of the listeners. AND nice job too, as the Vice President in 2045! I laughed out loud. The only thing that started to bug me were the ‘then’s. Wil would pause his reading and an excited upturn of the word ‘then’ would happen. It began to hear a ding of a bell every time he did this, like ‘incredulous’ did in the Twilight series. When I looked through the book, the ‘then’s weren’t as noticeable. I will say this… I was in the car when listening to Wil Wheaton recite all the early video game systems. When I heard “Coleco Vision” said with such reverence, I yelled and raised my fist in the air! I was being represented.

But as much as I loved listening, I enjoyed reading it more. The type and font is thoughtful and the graphics for the scoreboard are really fun. And that’s where my memories were made, late at night reading a book and pressing the pages with my tired fingers. It was still a time travel trip through life in the 1980’s. The way Cline described the typical 1980’s home, the gold carpet, the paneled walls to the vintage 80’s arcade with accompanying pizza joint, was spot on to my memories.

I’d like to think Cline did his homework, but I’m leaning more toward Cline knew his stuff. Like my brother, there are so many nerdy gamers that recognize what he’s talking about, and the fact that I caught a lot of the references tells me enough that Cline wanted to write a book that honored his upbringing and something he’d want to read himself. The writer in me forgave his rookie novel because of the sheer fun of it. But it was easy to read, and so much fun, I’ll probably let me teen read it, if not just for the history lesson it teaches.

I don’t know how the Ready Player One movie will compare, but I already know I will need to view them differently– Book AND Movie not Book V.S. Movie. I can see Spielberg’s draw to this, I see it fitting well with his E.T. , Close Encounters, and authentic 80’s cinematography. But, I doubt very much that he could capture the nerd nostalgia that you get from the book. I personally think that to take the words in the book and recreated it would be confusing to a third of the audience. I can see that being a factor in the screenplay. But what I think will be something to look forward to is just how visually stunning the virtual reality world of the OASIS has to be. I’m beyond excited to see that.

This book not only is a good trip down memory lane, but a good retrospective glance to all Millennials that have it tech-easy. Some days in my house we play 1989, and remind my kids how it was to live without instant download or Wikipedia. It’s also a comment on our current videogame culture and how social interaction has become more online than in person. Cline’s vision of the future is not so distant and that is terrifying. We really have an amazing world around us. Yes, Skyrim is also, amazing, I will admit that, but sometimes I just like to go outside, smell fresh air, feel wind, and lay on the real grass and just be.

I recommend Ready Player One to anyone who knows this deep culture and wants the 80’s flashback. For those who don’t understand what I’m talking about but want an 80’s culture fix without watching old John Hughes films, try Stranger Things.

Follow Ladies of Nerditude on Twitter at: @ladiesofnerditude

 

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