Ready Player One
Publisher: Random House (Crown)
Electronic Book (iBook version)§
530 pages (Portrait View)
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is both a brilliant and unusual novel. In the sense that it is immensely creative, compulsively addictive, contains its own element of game-play, and is a highly entertaining read, it’s a very peculiar novel indeed. In addition, it was an extremely likeable story to get caught up in. Reading Cline’s virtual-cyber-world saga I had no trouble transporting myself back to the 1980’s. In fact, it had me reflecting nostalgically back to my 20’s in no time at all. It had me reminiscing over old video systems and games that I hadn’t thought about in years, it had me searching my book collection for 80’s era Science Fiction, it had me hunting through boxes of old VHS and 8-Track tapes, and it had me thinking about the box of old Texas Instruments computer components and game cartridges that I use to keep down in the basement. I can’t remember the last time a novel gave me so much satisfaction and, at the same time, exercise (both mentally and physically.) This book may not be for everyone - well, mostly not for those born after 1990 - but the story itself holds up even without knowing all the pop-culture references, so, maybe after second-thought, it is for everybody. I imagine a sixteen year old reading this today might encounter some of the same feelings I had the first time I stumbled through Dune – the pleasure of being transported to a bizarre other world yet not truly understanding the fullness of the plot and subsequent sub-plots and tropes.
Ready Player One is a rare combination of retro-80’s Cyberpunk combined with themes of futuristic dystopia, over-population, and economic squalor, then heavily blended with a boat-load of virtual reality, and garnished with a hint of thriller. Not to mention that it employs a universal quest motif and contains a love story yet still manages to include an in-book puzzle that millions would kill to uncover. (By universal I mean that almost everyone in the world is involved in the hunt.) The reward? A billion dollar estate bequeathed to the winner by the mad genius that developed the world’s most popular video game/virtual world. To the first person that solves an elaborate three-part virtual quest goes the spoils. Ready Player One is filled with 80’s pop-culture references that both enhance and become integral to the plot. And that’s what makes this story so much fun to read. I dare anyone who lived through that decade to not be entertained by this book. Nix that. I dare anyone at all to not be entertained by this story (even those born post-1990.) It’s that good. Donning Nostradamus’s hat I have only this to say… in the years to come, Ernest Cline will become a household name and Ready Player One, his claim to fame, will be considered a classic work of Science Fiction. I, for one, intend to visit often. Recommended for 80’s buffs, dystopia fans, virtual reality enthusiasts, video game addicts, near-future aficionados, computer geeks, and Science Fiction lovers of all kinds.
P.S. Ready Player One is named after the common message that flashed on-screen in early arcade video and computer games.
Disclaimer: Review copy provided free as part of the Amazon.com Vine Program.
4 ½ stars out of 5
A few 80’s Pop-Culture References from the Book
There are countless transparently obvious 80’s references in Ready Player One (See below.) But, there are just as many subtle, hidden references that the diligent researcher may pick up on while reading more closely (See even further below.) It was a lot of fun looking for the hidden 80’s gems Ernest Cline references in the book. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll re-read it again just to spot the plethora of pop-culture references he calls out. The following is a sampling for your retro-80’s pleasure.
“I need to reevaluate my life. Do you have a minute?”*
Some Obvious References
- 1980 (U.S. Release) Mad Max starring Mel Gibson
- 1981 “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider (from the motion picture Vision Quest)
- 1982 Family Ties – TV series starring Michael J. Fox
- 1982 Devo – “Oh, No! It's Devo”
- 1982 Knight Rider – TV drama series
- 1983 Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – motion picture
- 1984 The Return of Godzilla – motion picture
- 1984 The Terminator – motion picture
- 1985 The Transformers – animated TV series
- 1985 Vision Quest – motion picture
- 1986 Bon Jovi – “Livin’ On a Prayer “ - music video
- 1989 (Recorded) “Birdhouse in Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants from the album Flood
- 1989 The Simpsons – TV comedy series
Some Less Obvious References
- 1976 Xyzzy Cluster - Xyzzy is a magic word from the Colossal Cave Adventure computer game, one of the very first text adventure games.
- 1979 “Don’t Panic” is the motto of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Used throughout the novel.
- 1979 “Joe’s Garage” – Frank Zappa rock opera and in-book an “orbital starship repair shop in Sector Ten” (Note: Sector-Ten was a massive Imperial-Faction guild previously played on Chilastra server, Star Wars Galaxies.)
- 1980 The Well of Souls novels by Jack L. Chalker - Cline mentions a virtual world with areas containing levels of magic, technology, etc. which is right out of Chalker’s science fiction novels where whole planets are separated into hexes with different levels of technology (including: non-technological, magical, and highly technological races.)
- 1980 (U.S. release) Mad Max - Wade’s car was “booby trapped Max Rockatansky-style” – Reference is to the first Mad Max movie and the explosive device Max had hooked up to his black Pursuit Special (a limited GT351 version of a 1973 Ford XB Falcon Hardtop.)
- 1980 “Don’t Call me Shirley” from the motion picture Airplane. Found in dialogue between Wade and Aech in the “Basement.”
- 1980’s Gygax – Named for Gary Gygax co-creator of Dungeon and Dragons and generally acknowledged as the father of role-playing games - Cline often mentions Gygax as a world in the Virtual Reality of OASIS.
- 1980’s Art3mis – A main character could have origins derived from the following 1980’s references: ARTEMIS - the brand name of a family of software based project planning and management tools developed by Metier Management Systems; Artemis 81 - BBC Science Fiction feature about an epic battle between good and evil; or Artemis, the goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and fertility (the hunt fits this book perfectly)
- 1982 “We Can Dance If We Want To” partial song lyrics to the Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.
- 1980’s Parzival - Parzival (Percival in English) by the poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, in the Middle High German language, is the earliest complete Grail romance in European literature (also an apropos name for an epic quest-driven character.)
- 1984 “Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada” from the motion picture The Last Starfighter. (We once had a cat named Mags.)
§ I enjoyed Ready Player One so much that after purchasing an electronic copy I also requested the paper version from the Amazon Vine program. Each had a very different cover which explains the two covers above.
* Mallory Keaton - Family Ties (1982) TV comedy series.
Some (Mostly) 80’s Video Game References found in Ready Player One
Tennis For Two (1958), Colossal Cave Adventure (1976), Zork (1980), Mystery House (1980), Defender (1980), Pac-Man (1980), 3D Monster Maze (1981), Haunted House (1981), Donkey Kong (1981), Battlezone (1981), Wizardry (1981), Jungle King (1982), Zaxxon (1982), Dungeons of Daggorath (1982), Dragon's Lair (1983), Mario Bros. (1983), King's Quest (1984), Super Mario Bros. (1985), The Legend of Zelda (1986), Dragon Warrior (1986), Metroid (1986), Final Fantasy (1987), Street Fighter (1987), Maniac Mansion (1987), Metal Gear (1987), and Prince of Persia (1989) to name only a few. And, of course, Joust (1982) but that’s way too obvious as it was winning this game that allowed Parzival to open the First Gate of the quest and top the leader board.
Ernest Cline has been a short-order cook, fish gutter, plasma donor, elitist video store clerk, and tech support drone. He eventually ditched those careers to express his love of pop culture as a spoken word artist and screenwriter. His 2009 film Fanboys became a cult phenomenon. Ready Player One is his first novel.