The Paw Print

The Paw Print

The Paw Print

Ready Player One: Worldbuilding on a Foundation of Bad Writing.

Me reading (and disliking) Ready Player One

Do you like compelling characters in a dystopia setting? Do you like a story that intrigues the reader with twist and turns? Do you like books that have a deeper meaning, dark commentary on the way our word is heading yet with a hopeful ending that make you feel like even you can change the world?

You do?

Go read Snow Crash and avoid Ready Player One like the plague.

Ready Player One (or RPO) is a book written by Ernest Cline in 2011, and if you look at the reviews you’ll see good things. It has a 4.6/5 stars on Amazon and the site Goodreads give it a 4.2/5 stars. However, I am entirely convinced that all of the positive reviews and responses are 30-40 year old dads so blinded by constant 80s nostalgia that they couldn’t see the books terrible flaws, just like the writer. This review will not be of the world building, which, to give credit, is really good. I will instead be reviewing the characters, plot, and how Ernest Cline is bad at writing both.

I will also be making this review spoiler free in case you or a friend have already unfortunatly started reading RPO. I will also once again suggest that you burn your copy of RPO (unless it’s the schools) and buy Snow Crash. The premise of the book is simple: it’s a scavenger hunt through a virtual reality comprised mostly of 80s pop culture references, where the winner of the hunt will receive an incredible fortune as well as take over command of the company that owns the VR world. Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Da Vinci Code, for the YA gamer crowd.

The main character Wade is just a boring and bland milktoast protagonist who is just there to give the reader a self insert. He is also a narcissist, stalker, pervert, and general waste of space human being. To be fair to RPO, most of that doesn’t start till Ready Player Two (RPT) when Ernest Cline took all of the good characters ruined them (story for another day). He has the same generic ‘parents dead, inlaws suck’ backstory we have seen a million time before, except now instead of him being a middle class nobody hating his life, he is a POOR nobody hating his life. Truly groundbreaking. He is the definition of a static character, not changing, growing or evolving throughout RPO. There was also a scene in which Wade talked about doing… things to himself that I can’t describe on a school news site that made me uncomfortable.

After some admittedly good worldbuilding (that went on a bit too long) Wade meets up with his friend Aech. Aech is a perfically fine character, and honestly one of my favorites. They are well written, have a really good arch and a twist in the middle of the book most won’t see coming. Credit were due, the supporting cast of this book is really good, just sucks that they are little more than background extras so Wade can have more expositional rants about technobabble and 80s references. Like the person who this book should really be about, Art3mis. Art3mis is a much more compelling character. She has a better backstory, better characterization, a motive, a personality, is genuinely charming and is also well written. Although she and Wade do have some good chemistry (which is ruined in RPT), what jumpstarts their friendship is Wade being a parasocial stalker and harassing this girl until she talks to him, which most likely only happed due to plot. What makes me that maddest isn’t that Ernest Cline can’t write good characters, it’s that he must have chose to make Wade a self aggrandizing milktoast pervert for some reason. Maybe to relate to the audience, mabe to self insert, who can really say.

The other two side characters, Shoto and Daito are brothers who also needed more screentime. They aren’t as interesting as Aech or Art3mis but they’re alright.

After Aech is introduced, Wade stumbles into the plot and become a wanted man by the big scary future bad guys, this books corporate corporation incorporated, IOI. IOI is the same faceless all -seeing all-knowing corporation in every sci-fi. They don’t even show up for half the book, we are just told every 22 pages remember IOI exist and I guess Ernest thought that would be good enough (I don’t respect him enough to call him Mr. Cline). They aren’t even a true threat to Wade, just an obstacle for him to climb over using all his 80s references. Wade watched every book, memorized every movie, collected every toy he needed to save the day while the genuine mega conglomerate with the army of thousands of employees, a whole department for 80s trivia, who have literal mercenaries running the streets, who more or less control the government are play catchup to a 17 year old.

The world Wade lives in is supposedly near collapse. Jobs are scarce, crime is rampant, climate change is destroying everything, the government is inefficient and ripe with corruption and most currencies are inflated to insane degrees. People are being held captive by corporations and forced to work helplines to escape inescapable debt. Let these thing I just told your really sink in.

Take a wild guess how many of them effect out Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) protagonist Wade.

Did you guess none of them? Then congrats! You don’t have to read two full length books of garbage to learn that like I did.

My last major issue was the climax. Without spoiling anything, there were multiple convenient deus-ex machina so jarring that you’re ripped out of the little immersion the book was able to manage. The final confrontation played out like a nerdy fantasy dream scenario straight out of some sloppy fanfic. It’s the most geniric ‘lots of good guys fight lot of bad guys then Wade a does cool thing and then a “You Win!” screen shows up’ ending we all saw coming 300 pages ago. It plays out like the shallowest next-gen action/shooter you can think of.

So when the main character lacks character, identity, goals; the environment poses no challenge, and the antagonists are incompetent, then what is left? NOTHING! An empty, paper thin plot about easily overcome obstacles interspersed with 80’s product placement.

Overall, this is very possibly the worst book I’ve ever read, only topped by Ready Player Two. It’s like if an AI generated a sci-fi novel from a 80s wikipedia page and nothing else. The whole book didn’t make sense and played out awkwardly with clunky dialogue and a awful main character. If there is one complement I can give is that… It tried. It tried, and it failed to a near comedic degree. I wouldn’t recommend the book, I truly, truly would not.

Also, this is one movie I won’t feel bad for skipping.

Better books to read with similar themes and settings, but much better execution:
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson  Snow Crash
Killobyte by Piers Anthony  Killobyte
The Apprentice Adept Series, specifically Split Infinity (1980) by Piers Anthony.  Split Infinity (The Apprentice Adept)

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