Thursday, June 19, 2014
The story is set a few decades in the future, when all the world has become consumed by a global alternate reality game, an MMO with fully immersive visuals and haptic feedback. The genius programmer-creator of this game has died, leaving behind an Easter egg contest: the person who finds his egg will inherit his entire fortune. The novel follows a teenager's efforts to do that while fighting against the powerful corporations who are using their vast resources to try to take control of the game -- and, by extension, the world.
The book gained the notoriety it enjoys because it's steeped in 80s pop culture. Video games, television shows, and movies -- all beloved by geeks -- figure prominently into the plot. Each page is peppered with dozens of references to squee at. (For added fun, the audiobook version of it is read by Wil Wheaton, I hear.) And it's all delivered with the sort of reverence of an author who you sense really loves this stuff and isn't merely leveraging it.
The end product is a real page turner that's tons of fun to read. But it also feels a bit superficial or simplistic at times. There are sections when the writing feels decidedly unsophisticated, usually when ham-fisted exposition is trying to explain a 80s reference some people might not get, or when describing the emotions of its not-quite-fleshed out teenage main character. Put another way, though I had sky high opinions of it while I was actually reading it, that opinion quickly began to lose its luster after I'd finished.
That said, I would probably still recommend the book to most of my friends. They're the sort of people it's really made for, and it's too much fun to overlook. But I think Ernest Cline's next book will really be a chance to prove if he can improve his technique, or if he's just a guy who had one really cool idea for a novel. I give Ready Player One a B+.