By Vee Glessner
In light of the recent release of Spielberg’s highly-anticipated film “Ready Player One,” the original novel by the same name deserves some attention and praise. Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” is a visionary, unique novel that anyone with a taste for immersive fiction can enjoy.
Set in 2045, the story follows Wade Watts, a teenager growing up in the midst of global energy, food, resource, and population crises. Everyone spends most of their day logged into the OASIS, a highly realistic virtual reality where humankind does everything from attend school to conduct business and shop. Avatars are indistinguishable from their owners, and when OASIS creator James Halliday dies, the society is both united and divided by a common quest.
Halliday left a so-called Easter Egg in his simulation, and after his death, the simple rules of his contest go public: The first OASIS user to find the egg will become the sole proprietor of the OASIS and inherit controlling stock in Halliday’s business. This sparks a global obsession with the 1980s, the decade during which Halliday was a teenager and the foundation for all of the puzzles that lead to Halliday’s golden egg. References to the iconic decade pique nostalgia throughout the book, and those that grew up in the 80s as well will probably find their favorite media from the time period, be it movies, comics, music, or video games, well-represented given the vast variety and frequency of references.
But the best part of “Ready Player One” is that you don’t have to be a “Monty Python” geek, Matthew Broderick fan club president, or coin-operated arcade champion to enjoy it. There are some subtle nods to 80s culture that experts on the decade will get a kick out of, but the main events (think “WarGames,” Dungeons and Dragons, “Blade Runner,” “PacMan, Rush, “Schoolhouse Rock!,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and more) are central and explicit. Cline gives enough detail that readers can grasp the gist of each of the references and honors them invitingly, which may inspire one to dig into 80s culture and enjoy it the way Halliday did.
Of course, the new movie invites comparison to its original novel namesake, but the two are completely different. Although they follow the same premise of a Willy Wonka-esque billionaire leaving his estate to a contest winner, the challenges that Wade and his fellow competitors face are completely rewritten, and much of the real-world plot differs too. Spielberg’s cinematic changes make sense for the movie, and it is a great movie, but the novel deserves its own spotlight for complexity and thoughtfulness of challenges that just can’t be portrayed on the big screen.
For any other book, nearly 600 pages is an impassable, deterring length, but with “Ready Player One,” it still feels too short.