The Geek Shall Inherit… ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

This review first appeared on in Aug 2011

…if not the earth, then its biggest computer simulation, containing a multitude of worlds.

‘Ready Player One’ is set in the near-future. The real world is collapsing; climate change and a lack of energy resources have changed the face of the planet. Discontented with their lot, millions of people spend their days plugged into the OASIS, a virtual world, where your identity is a secret, and if you can imagine it, then you can make it happen.

The novel’s plot revolves around a quest set by the creator of OASIS. In his last will and testament, Richard Halliday revealed that an ‘Easter Egg’ was hidden somewhere in OASIS. The finder of the Easter egg, inherits the company, and gets the keys to OASIS. Halliday was a computer and Role-Playing freak, who liked Monty Python and the band Rush. He played Dungeons and Dragons a lot, as a kid. If you are never been into any of these things, you probably aren’t going to enjoy this book. Similarly, if you are wondering how you hide chocolate ovoid confectionary in a computer game, then this is probably not the book for you.

I imagine that the appeal of ‘Ready Player One’ has a narrow bandwidth, but for those who do like it, the appeal will run deep. It’s geek manna. The novel in essence is a string of 1980’s computer game trivia and RPG references roped together by a decent story line. It’s a nostalgia trip for those who didn’t get out as much as they should have.

The story follows egg hunter Parzival, on his quest to find his own holy grail. He has spent his life opting out of reality, in order to become an expert on the life and loves of Richard Halliday. He has played Halliday’s favourite games countless times, can recite his favourite films from memory, and has read all his favourite books. Like countless others, he has spent five fruitless years trying to solve the riddle and find the prize.

Much of the interaction in the book is in the virtual world. The characters are nearly all Avatars, their owner’s identities hidden for much of the novel. Parzival forms several uneasy friendships with other hunters, tied by their interest and obsession with the hunt, but held apart by the fact that only one of them can win. The true villains of the piece are the megacorp IOI, who have flouted the spirit of the competition, in order to grasp the reins of Halliday’s empire, and bring it under their rapacious control. When Parzival finds the first key to solving the mystery the game is on.

Enjoyable though `Ready Player One’ is it does have some flaws. The storyline doesn’t fully convince. It’s taken five years for anybody to come close to solving the first part of the puzzle, but once it has been solved the next parts are solved very quickly. Some of the ideas used in solving the first section are repeated for parts two and three, and so things become rather repetitive; there is only so much geeking-out over ancient arcade games, this reader can do. As another reviewer has mentioned, the villains are a little underpowered; the idea of an `evil’ corporation being too simplistic.

But these are minor gripes. This is a novel that will appeal to fans of RPG’s, LOTR, WOW and many other acronyms. It reminded me in places of Cory Doctorow’s novels For the Win and Makers (Doctorow even gets a name check somewhere in the middle of the novel). ‘Ready Player One’ is an inventive and entertaining debut; a little far-fetched, but a glorious homage to early geek history. I look forward to seeing what Ernest Cline comes up with next, a multiple of virtual worlds are his oyster.


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