Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One has been much hyped around various parts of the internet, and after receiving several recommendations, I have just finished reading it. It is a kind of cyberpunk novel (except I didn’t think people wrote much cyberpunk any more!) and strongly targeted to a nerd audience.
The book is set in a near-future world where the credit crunch and energy crisis have worsened and there is mass unemployment, overcrowding and poverty. But there is also virtual reality, in the form of OASIS, a kind of combined internet and video game. Upon his death, it was revealed that the creator of OASIS had hidden an easter egg inside the game, and whoever found it would gain control of the company. Many people turned to hunting for this egg. One of them is the book’s narrator, Wade (or Parzival as his avatar is called), who lives in an impoverished trailer park and goes to virtual high school inside the game. As he and his online friends start to make progress in the egg hunt, they come up against the forces of a typically evil corporation who want to win the egg so they can take over OASIS and change it for the worst.
I have to admit now, I did not particularly like the book. On one hand I thought it had an interesting setting, albeit a fairly standard cyberpunk one. But to be honest, I have never been a great fan of cyberpunk, beyond the classics like Neuromancer. So I ended up spending most of the book thinking, ‘this was better when it was written by Neal Stephenson and called Snow Crash’.
I had two big problems with book. First was the narration - I generally do not like first person narration, and here the style and the narrator’s voice just irritated me. Secondly, the constant barrage of nerdy references. I am a nerd, or a geek, or whatever you want to call it. I appreciate a good obscure nerd joke. I got most of the references in the book. But a book cannot be built purely on references to 80s pop culture. I know people in real life who are like that too, always quoting lines from movies and sneering at you if you don’t get their obscure comic book references. The character here, the narrator, was the same kind of person, and after a while it just got a bit tiring.
So overall, I didn’t particularly like it. But I can see why it has got so many good reviews, because it does have strong geek appeal. In a way that is my problem with it; rather than being the kind of thing that geeks like, it is about the kind of things that geeks like. It makes an effort, with the setting and the plot, but I felt they were just smothered by the narrator and the pop culture obsession. I really would not recommend it, and to anyone who is interested in reading it, I’d say pick up Snow Crash instead.