I’m a big fan of Andy Weir. I read the entirety of his debut novel, The Martian, within the span of a week (it would’ve been less if I wasn’t continuously interrupted by holiday festivities). I read and was deeply moved by his short story, The Egg. Which if you haven’t read, you should do so immediately here.
So to my delight, he did an AMA on Reddit and answered many questions that fans had been dying to know. One of them being, “Who’s your favourite up and coming sci-fi author?” He answered in earnest, “Ernest Cline. Author of Ready Player One.”
So I excitedly downloaded the book and began reading it in the middle of my work shift (that’s how excited I was). I mean, Andy Weir likes it, so it must mean that it’s good, right?
No. It doesn’t. It really doesn’t.
Enough of my long-winded backstory that nobody cares about. On to the actual review.
The year is 2044. The planet is a grim, ugly place, ravaged by endless war and the deadly spread of a parasite called the human race. To escape reality, every man, woman, and child submerses themselves in a MMORPG called OASIS. The wealthy, eccentric trillionaire obsessed with the 80’s who owned OASIS has passed, leaving his virtual online gaming legacy to one lucky person who can find the Easter Egg he left behind.
Years pass without a progress. Nobody’s any closer to finding the first clue than the next. Except for one person. Wade Watts, a spotty-faced 18 year-old, discovers the first key to finding the hidden treasure. The entire world’s gamers are now watching him, many of whom will stop at nothing to obtain what he has. What follows is a desperate race to the finish line, filled with virtual swords, gold coins, and assloads of 80’s pop culture references.
The 80’s. Really? I know it harbors the ‘birth’ of the video game, some of the more ‘classic’ TV shows and movies, but come on. Of all the decades in the history of the universe, this is the one that everyone chooses to obsess over? Suddenly expansive knowledge of 80’s trivia, listening to Duran Duran while hanging out in a virtual basement is in and hot and not at all dweebish to the nth degree.
It’s like if I created a multi-billion dollar empire and forced all of my followers to consume 90’s bullshit like The Backstreet Boys, Fresh Prince, and FUCKING REN AND STIMPY. Time to bust out the denim suit and the mood rings, because IIIII WANT IT THAAAT WAY.
Okay, got a little carried away there.
Sure. It’s a nostalgic look into your past if you’re somebody who grew up in North America in the 80s, but for everyone else, it’s plays off like some sort of shoddy, ham-fisted retro circlejerk.
Now, the novel isn’t completely devoid of personality. The world itself is fascinating, and of course, a gamer’s wet dream. OASIS, where the possibilities are never-ending, and the universe is infinite, and it’s all at the tip of your finger. It sounds like the coolest thing ever. Imagine a place where you can actually travel to Middle Earth, or Tatooine, or something a little less exotic, like 1940s Europe, or Antarctica.
However, all of this is nullified when you realize that you don’t actually discover any of this for yourself. Massive amounts of the novel consist of Wade dumping information on you. Pages and pages of exposition and telling, not showing. More often than not, it’s Wade gushing about his creepy obsession with a 70 year old dead man who also had an unhealthy and incredibly off-putting infatuation with the 80’s.
Wade spends the majority of the novel being the lone wolf. His interaction with others is minimal, so we spend most of the time in his head. Have you ever wondered what a teenage boy thinks about, ALL THE TIME? Well, read the book and you’ll find out firsthand. In this aspect, Ernest Cline, you did it. You did good.
Also, Wade is the biggest idiot/douchebag/psychopath I’ve had the displeasure of understanding. His aunt and uncle died in a explosion that he caused, and he feels absolutely no remorse because they weren’t close. He doesn’t care that he told the bad guy to suck a fat one, because oooOOooOoo he’s the CHOSEN ONE. He has an intense stalker crush on Art3mis (fuck you, Ernest Cline, not all E’s are meant to be penned as 3’s, you massive douche) that he has no problem showing, but it’s ok because he’s the main character. PHEW! He has no problem signing contracts with companies to endorse their products, yet he has an issue with the big, evil company for trying to take over OASIS to generate ad revenue. If that isn’t hypocrisy, I don’t know what is. Well, what do you expect from a 18 year old asshat who’s never left his white trash trailer park?
The author barely talks about the cultural advances between 2014 and 2044, which makes it seem like there’s a 30 year black hole in which no movies, no TV shows, no pop culture phenoms were birthed and/or referenced to in the future. THAT is just lazy writing.
When you realize that all this talking, all this action is taking place in the heads of a bunch of video game nerds, the real world consequences are minimal at best. We rarely get to spend time outside of the OASIS. Even in the OASIS itself, Wade spends massive amounts of time thinking about irrelevant shit, 80’s references, all the while standing around in chat rooms talking to his best friend whose name I don’t even wanna write because it sounds so astoundingly stupid. Alright. It’s Aech. Pronounced like the letter H. Fuck you, Ernest Cline.
Also, writing like:
“I spent over an hour tweaking my avatar’s hair and trying on different skins to wear to the club. I finally settled on some classic ’80s-era attire: a light gray suit, exactly like the one Peter Weller wore in Buckaroo Banzai, complete with a red bow tie, along with a pair of vintage white Adidas high-tops.
Art3mis winked at me, and then her legs melted together to form a mermaid’s tail. She flapped her new tail fin once and shot ahead of me, her body undulating and trusting in time with the machine-gun beat as she swam through the air.
My avatar’s limbs and torso began to flow and spin like taffy, encircling Art3mis, while strange color patterns flowed and shifted across my skin. I looked like Plastic Man, if he were tripping out of his mind on LSD. Then everyone else on the dance floor also began to shape-shift, melting into prismatic blobs of light. Soon, the center of the club looked like some otherworldly lava lamp.”
And according to Ernest Cline, witty banter between gamer friends involves terms of endearment such as ‘noob’ or ‘fag’ or ‘poser’. I have a surprise for you, those have come and past with 2007, so it’s highly unlikely they persisted into the 2040s. Using titles such as ‘L33t Hax0rz Warezhaus’ earns you the prize of 15,000 head dunks in the toilet.
The novel reads like Ernest Cline is trying to retell the story of his childhood, except in a world where he’s actually cool and he’s the “chosen one”. It’s one of most Gary Sue of Gary Sue novels I’ve read in my entire life. In fact, it’s Number 1. Uncontested. Wade Watts is completely devoid of any personality, the novel itself is unsophisticated and unoriginal at best – an orphaned chosen one with quirky best friends who face off against an evil conglomerate? Never heard that one before.
The novel glorifies the otaku. Staying home, immersing yourself in a video game for hours on end, only stopping to eat, shit, and sleep, because YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, MOM. It’s ok to be overweight, Vitamin-D deficient, and to not have friends in real life. It’s a horrifying ideal that the author gleans over and ties it up in a neat little knot at the very end in order to make his novel work.
The world doesn’t even make sense. How on Earth are they still using – 30 years into the future – fiber optic Internet or regular TV broadcasts like SNL (not even joking, it’s actually in the book) or absolute free reign of the webosphere when the whole world is at war? Why set it in a dystopia anyway? Wade doesn’t care. Nobody else cares. Why should we? Where the fuck is the government in all of this? Are they like “Hey, our citizens are killing the fuck out of each other in an ungoverned video game and this giant corporation is bombing teenage kids out of spite. HAHA NO BIG DEAL.”
All that aside, the plot itself is as thin as my leg hair. There is absolutely no sense of urgency, as Wade takes his goddamn time pursuing Art3mis (again, fuck you), going on dates, attending dances, and casually researching his next move but not actually put any effort into it. The novel only picks up near the end, about 4/5 into it. Then it’s awesome and nerdy and everything that I wished that could have happened a lot earlier.
I came close to quitting the novel at least 2 dozen times from beginning to end. Eventually, I just started to read it out of some masochistic desire for that constant state of rage I felt when reading. I hate the 80’s, I hate video game aficionados (meaning I hate myself now), and I fucking hate this book. Thanks a lot, Ernest Cline, you fucking dunce.
GAME OVER. TRY AGAIN.