Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
(YA dystopian sci-fi/fantasy, light LitRPG)
I think I expected too much from this book. Many, MANY of my friends raved about it. What I heard of the premise sounded interesting. And it’s got tons of 80’s references — what could be better?
Well, frankly, this book could be better. This is Cline’s first novel. It shows. There are (many) places where we get unneeded info-dumps. There’s a lot of telling instead of showing. There’s stuff that felt like it was added because the author liked it and then didn’t get edited out even though it had no impact on the story in any way, shape, or form. ((Example: realistic sex dolls. If you’re going to include one, don’t do it as a flashback of “I tried this, and realized it wasn’t real and so I stopped.” If you’re going to include it, either make it relevant to the plot, or show the MC wasting time with the doll while other characters are making progress in the hunt.) I have made this kind of mistake with my own fiction, and included scenes only because I liked them. Luckily I had good critique partners who slapped some sense into me.)
Cline is a screenwriter. That ALSO shows. (For the record, I think this has the potential to be an AWESOME movie.) But while a screenplay can leave the emotional part up to the actors (though they still need some direction), a novel cannot. A novel must show the characters’ emotions. The Bad Guy does some killing of people in the real world in this book. Our MC seems to shrug it off without it making any difference on his life whatever. One of the secondary characters behaves in a much more believable way about it, and I think he is possibly the most realistic character in the book.
As to the book itself: I could see this as both an adult book (80’s content & nostalgia) and a YA book (written about teenage main characters and without the depth I’d expect from an adult sci-fi novel). However, in my mind, it is a YA book more. For one thing, it explains all of the 80’s references that those of us who actually lived through the 80’s don’t need explained. The main reason that I see this as a YA book though, is the depth of the plot and characters. It just feels young.
This review so far might seem very harsh… but that’s because my expectations were so high. When I could sit back and enjoy the nostalgia romp, I enjoyed the book. Sometimes I enjoyed it a lot. I particularly enjoyed when I picked up a clue before it was explained to me (ie 2112). It just didn’t live up to the hype for me. I still have a hard time believing that Wade managed to learn/read/play/memorize everything he said he did in five years and still graduate from high school. And I can’t help but roll my eyes at the way diversity seemed shoehorned in at the end of the book. But… it was still fun.
It’s telling, though, that I think The Great and Powerful Og is my favorite character in the book. He’s the character who is closer to my age (and the author’s age) and actually lived through the 80’s. (Bonus: in the movie he’ll be played by Simon Pegg? Yes please!)
(Very random side note: I like the covers with 80’s videogame characters on them the best. Everything else seems poorly designed in comparison.)
Tl;dr version: This read like it was a book adaptation of an 80’s movie. I liked it, sometimes a lot and sometimes less. I felt the beginning of the book was too much of an info-dump and there was generally too much telling instead of showing. But for its flaws it was still an enjoyable read.
Rating: 3 stars