Games Gazette Logo

(Fiction-Science Fiction)

Ernest Cline

Crown Publishers New York

Hard Cover $24.00

READY PLAYER ONE:  The Geek novel to either become the classic and ultimate Geek novel, or the beginning of a spawn of Geek novel copycats.

This is author Ernest Cline's first book and already he has high hopes of it being turned into a movie. Having read it I can see the movie possibilities but cannot begin to imagine the nightmare and quagmire the copyrighting may cause for Cline has mentioned by name so many different companies and products, it would be a copyright lawyers dream project.

Anyhow, that's for then, for now I'll precis the story as best as I can without giving too much away, but hopefully offering you just enough to whet your appetite and to have you reaching for your Amazon account (or other book account). Apart from a few minor personal niggles, which of course I will mention, I had a great time reading READY PLAYER ONE and would like to read more adventures involving its characters.

Many years ago, when I was quite a prolific role-playing GamesMaster and scenario writer, I wrote a game where the player characters were trapped inside a computer arcade game and had to work their way through the various levels and end of level bosses to solve the main puzzle and escape with the treasure. Later I read the amazing DREAM PARK books by Larry Niven and played the role-playing game based on the Dream Park premise - boy was that a hard game to GM (and play) because the players played characters who in the game were playing characters. I mention these two facts because in READY PLAYER ONE the heroes of the story are people playing characters (Avatars) in the largest MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) system ever created, OASIS and the story revolves mostly around their Avatars with brief insights into the reality of their actual lives.

It is the future, 2044, and the World as we know it has been virtually decimated. It is a vast urban sprawl (isn't it peculiar that no matter who the author is when a story is written about the future the World is always a dark, desperate and desolate place?) with people split into the have's and the have nots. In this world the majority of people who can afford it, and it seems hundreds of thousands of people can, spend nearly all of their existence inside the virtual universe of OASIS where they can be who they want to be, look like whoever or whatever they want and do almost anything they want to do. OASIS is a world of hundreds of planets, many being duplicates of others, with some being PvP (Player versus Player) and others being only PvE (Player versus Environment) just like the majority of MMO's (World of Warcraft, Aion, LotR, EverQuest Rift etc) currently taking up the waking hours of millions across the world. But OASIS isn't just a game environment. Children go to virtual schools and adults work in virtual companies inside OASIS but all affecting the actual world. Kids may have their Avatar's sitting at their school desk but this doesn't mean the child is out playing or doing other things; in fact they are actually learning through their Avatars, all that has changed is the need to physically go to school (or work). As long as the person is at a computer somewhere they can log into OASIS and do whatever they are paid to do without being there. Finance is in the form of credits which can be spent in the real world or in OASIS, for example an Avatar can go into an OASIS based Pizza shop and place an order, pay with credits and then sit at home (real world home) and wait for the pizza to be delivered, which it will be, generally by an automaton of some kind.

When the creator of OASIS, James Halliday, died, many years ago, he was an amazingly wealthy (think billions and add some noughts) man. He owned OASIS as well as a vast fortune and in his Last Will and Testament he left everything to the person who could find an Easter Egg (an Easter Egg is a hidden bonus found in games and DVDs) he had hidden somewhere within OASIS. For many years the Gunters, in game adventurers, and the Sixers of IOI (Innovative Online Industries) searched for the fabled Egg. They read all they could about Halliday and searched every place he ever mentioned in his books and journals. They studied every game he played or had created, they learnt his music, book and film favourites off by heart but the years passed and no one ever came close to finding the first of the three Keys (Copper, Jade and Crystal) or the Gates they would open, eventually leading to the Egg. Then one day, out of the blue, the internet was spammed with the Egg Hunt's Scoreboard - a Gunter named Parzival was in the top position, the Copper key had been found.

From here we follow the adventures of Parzival, one Wade Owen Watts, and his online, in-OASIS friends, Aech, Art3mis, Shoto and Daito, on a journey through the technology ages from the early days in the 70's up to the haptic gear of the present (2044). Almost every original home computer type gets a mention as do numerous adventure games such as Zork and Role-Play games like Dungeons & Dragons, and as each is brought into play so my memory tried to jog me back to the time when I played these games regularly, though not as regularly or thoroughly as Wade Watts did. This is where one or two of my personal niggles with the story come in. Wade Watts can remember every corridor, trap position, secret hiding place, lines of text or lyrics etc etc of every online or tabletop game, movie or music. It isn't mentioned that Wade has an eidetic memory but it is implied, many times over, to the point of annoyance; you can almost hear the author thinking now how do I get Wade out of this, ah yes, he can remember playing/reading/seeing this game/film/book 100 plus times. The number of times, always in the hundreds, that Wade has done these things would mean he had spent all of his young life doing nothing but, and this is the second of my niggles - time ! I may be missing something but the way I read it, the author has forgotten how time works. Near the beginning we learn that the Copper key is 400 kilometres from Parzival and that as his Avatar has no credits to pay for teleportation or other form of transport he may have to run. He states that it will take about 3 days (72 hours) as Parzival can run at 5km an hour (5 x 72 = 360) it will take 80 hours with no stopping - that's Wade having no breaks for food, drink, bathroom or anything for three and a third days (not really feasible). Then Wade discovers that his school Basketball team is playing at a school just 70km from the key and that if he (Wade) volunteers to go along as a supporter the school will pay for a return teleport to the school when the team plays away; luckily they are playing away that very day. Wade takes the teleport trip, doesn't go to the match and runs to where the key is (in the Tomb of Horrors, a classic D&D adventure). Now at 5km an hour running 70kms would take 14 hours yet Wade is there in what seems like no time at all. No one from the school has worried about him, it seems they just hand out teleport tickets and dont take any notice of who to or whether they go to the game.

Just after Parzival locates and gains the Copper Key IOI use their cooperative power to bring him in and question him. It is obvious that this megacorps want to own and run OASIS and not for the fun or use it has been or could be used for. Parzival gives them nothing and not long after he leaves IOI the tower block where he lives with hist evil-stepmother type Aunt is blown up killing her and a lot of other real people; they will not be the first to die in reality (or in game) at the hands of the IOI Sixers. From here on the story has a slight change in mood and mode, becoming a love story as Parzival calls on his friends and falls in love with Art3mis, the person not the Avatar, even though he has never met her in real life - it is even a possibility that Art3mis isn't run by a female in real life, apparently people playing MMOs like to run characters of the opposite sex (surely not, PS don't tell my MMO characters). The Avatars are determined to stay soloists and will not share anything they have discovered with each other; the trust hasn't been earned yet and for a long period Parzival is second guessing everything and everyone while he pines for Art3mis who has turned down his advances. Once again the Authors inconsistency with time aises its head. Months pass and nothing else is heard of about the hunt, yet this makes not a lot of sense when you read that IOI have hundreds of clones researching Halliday and never get anywhere, despite their cheating, until one of the main characters makes headway.

When all seems lost the comrades, now working together, find an unexpected ally and join up as their real selves to find away to success. Whether they get on together, what occurs and whether one of them becomes rich and more famous I am not going to say. I will state though, that despite my minor annoyances I waded past them and was disappointed when I reached the end of the book. Not because of the story, not because of the way it finished, but because it ended, I wanted more. For much of the tale it was like being immursed in my own past and taking that sentimental journey was a treat as well as being a strain on my poor little solitary brain cell. Did it give me the urge to go find these old chestnuts and play them again ? Most certainly not! The past is a great place to go to on occasion but not somewhere I would want to revisit too often, those games were good then but now they are relics. Mind you, if the future in 2044 I'm not too sure I would like to live there either, but fingers crossed I may get there. I'd be 94 then, so possibly not so dextrous in the OASIS as I'd apparently need to be.

This is the biggest and best geek novel I have ever read and I will be surprised if anyone, Ernest Cline included, will ever top it.



© Chris Baylis 2011-2015