Saturday, August 13, 2016

Reflections: Ready Player One

Ready Player One is the most referential book I have ever read.  Its pages drip with 80s pop culture references, some of them obvious, many of them not.  It's entertaining at first, especially when you understand the reference, but then it becomes a bit obnoxious and excessive.  This, in fact, is a good analogue to the book itself.  Its beginning is much stronger than its conclusion, and the aspects of the book which were its most entertaining element at the start become tired and worn-out by the end.

The book is on the whole enjoyable.  I described it to a co-worker as "aggressively okay."  The narrative pulls you along at a steady pace, interesting things happen, the mystery of the "Easter Egg" is sufficiently compelling, but it's the finer details that start to nag.  As mentioned, the references, the worship of 80s culture, although explained through the narrative, becomes irritating.  The details of the story are impressive, and the author's passion for the subject matter screams on every page.  The writing and dialogue serves the story fine and provides only a few moments of profundity. 

Sadly, the author, Ernest Cline, commits one of the most grievous mistakes of any science fiction or fantasy story, which I call "The Magic Wand."  Essentially "The Magic Wand" is a narrative tool to magically fix the story's most perplexing problems.  (Did you know reversing the Earth's orbit reverses time itself!?  Thank you, Superman).  Often times authors use this Wand when they've painted themselves into a corner.  "Oh, look, now the main character can fly!" or "travel through time!" or some such thing.  Ready Player One's Magic Wand is the main character's outlandish sudden ability to perfectly plan and execute a plan of such devious and conniving genius it leaves both the characters in the book and the reader of the book completely stunned.  Furthermore, throughout the book, there are far too many instances of the character needing to know some obscure or obtuse fact about 80s pop culture and the main character conveniently notifies the reader: "Good thing I've watched this film exactly 175 times."  Good thing, indeed.

Having said all of this, I enjoyed Ready Player One for what it was.  I was especially interested in the possible and entirely plausible future of virtual reality that the book showcases.  It's both exciting and dismaying.  Although the messaging of the book is muddled, which is too bad, the fiction aspect of it was very interesting.  (It's worth mentioning that according to an article in Businessweek, each new Oculus Rift employee—a company which has created a virtual reality headset—is issued a copy of Ready Player One).  A few years ago I was extremely skeptical of virtual reality's ability to be adopted by the mainstream.  Although that hasn't happened in a significant way yet, I do believe it will; in addition, I believe it very well could herald a massive shift in how we consume and participate in entertainment, education, business, commerce, and even how we interact with and make sense of reality itself.  Ready Player One shows a world that is either terrifying or exhilarating depending on your worldview.  I'm not convinced the author knows exactly which one it is. 

Ready Player One is being adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg, and I think it might have a better chance being a great story as a film than a book.  I think the story needs to be trimmed, sliced and diced a bit, and leave behind many of the arcane details meant to be enjoyed by only a few.  There is definitely a fun adventure to be found here, but it might take some other storytellers to tell it a bit better.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Reflections: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Reflections: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress