The biggest tragedy facing 2044 is that LGBTQI+ women of colour are still experiencing inequality to the point they need to masquerade as straight white boys in an online simulation.
I really don’t know what to say about this one. Although late to the party, my inner geek was excited to read Ready Player One due to the overwhelmingly positive reviews floating around the internet. Some even go as far as to laud it as the ‘best book ever’.
This is not one of those reviews.
Warning. There will be spoilers.
Ready Player One is a deeply flawed book. While I can see its appeal—mostly among fans of the 80s and male gamers—there’s not a great deal that resonated with me as a reader. On the positive side, the writing was technically good and Cline‘s research and scope of understanding into 80s popular culture were evident; the post-apocalyptic world and the mechanics of the OASIS were well-developed and the overarching plot was fun. With all these components ticking boxes, one would think you’ve got a winner on your hands. Wrong. An obnoxious cast of characters and a generous helping of deus ex machina was all that was needed to bring this whole thing undone.
It’s very rare I read a book and not like a single character. Parzival was a self-centred, arrogant wanker and as much as I knew he was going to inevitably win, I really didn’t want him to. He was an entirely unsympathetic character who had everything conveniently fall into his lap. Parzival, aka Wade Watts, not only had the knowledge and resources to plan for everything, but he never struggled executing said plans regardless of how complex, risky and downright implausible they may have been. His lusting after Art3mis only caused further irritation. He cared a whole two seconds when his aunt, neighbours and everyone in his trailer stack were killed and yet spent half the book moaning when a girl a he fell in insta-love with stopped talking to him. And this was only one character.
Art3mis and Aech were more interesting than Parzival by the smallest of margins and for different reason. Upon her initial introduction, I thought Art3mis had potential to be a solid, likeable character. But that wasn’t to be. As her interactions with Parzival revealed, she was just an idealised imprint of a real girl-gamer with little depth and pseudo-flaws that could only be healed through the love of a boy. Aech was similar to Art3mis in that the character shifted from being semi-interesting to annoying-as-hell throughout the course of the book. Aech was in reverse: it was only after the ‘big revelation’ that the character became somewhat intriguing, but by then it was far too late for me to care. All the dudebro banter that equated to 80% of the book’s dialogue actually had me questioning whether Aech‘s true identity was an after-thought tacked on at the end to add some ~drama~ to the face-to-face meeting. It didn’t add anything to the story aside from revealing that the biggest tragedy facing 2044 is that LGBTQI+ women of colour are still experiencing inequality to the point they need to masquerade as straight white boys in an online simulation.
However, it was the introduction of Japanese players Daito and Shoto that really sent me over the edge. For all the research Cline had obviously conducted into 80s culture, less than a minute was dedicated to studying Japanese. Daito and Shoto positively reeked of stereotypes. I lived in Japan and worked with adolescents and young adults for five years and never once heard anyone use the term ‘dishonour’ or even care about it, and yet, in 2044, it’s all these two can talk about. This is clearly pandering to the stereotypes. To top it off, Cline later uses the term of ritually disembowelling oneself to describe jumping out a window. Seppuku ≠ suicide. A quick Google search would have told him that.
Because I was so incensed by the insurmountable issues with Ernest Cline‘s characters, it was very easy to fall out of the sync with the illusion, the maintaining of which being so important for successful science fiction. Flaws in the plot and gaming system became harder to let go and by the end of the book, OASIS—the all-encompassing conglomeration of EVERYTHING EVER CREATED—seemed implausible and frankly, ridiculous. I didn’t want to accept the rules (or lack thereof) anymore because the characters themselves were so flat and unbelievable. Everything that happened after Parzival opened the first gate was broken. He gained too much and by doing so removed the struggle along with any skerrick of sympathy he possessed from being an underdog. The infiltration of IOI or whatever he did towards the end (I really stopped caring) was a deus ex machina mess, which snowballed into an even greater one when Og whisks them away to his all powerful gaming sanctuary. Topped off with the fact that there were no limitations to what could happen in the OASIS, the engaging premise of Ready Player One quickly turned into an unrealistic snooze-fest punctuated by sardonic ‘Oh of course it did’ remarks from yours truly.
There really was not a whole lot of things I liked about Ernest Cline‘s debut as all I enjoyed upon first starting was quickly eclipsed by everything I found wrong. I originally rated Ready Player One a very generous two stars, but throughout the course of writing this review, I realised I haven’t hated a book this much since Maria Dahvana Headley‘s Magonia, and it deserved to be ranked as such.
Needless to say, I will not be seeing the movie.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, first published 2011
Get it here on Amazon.