As we discussed in our YouTube WOTScast, I recently had the opportunity to do something that doesn't come often for me these days: read. A friend recommended Ready Player One by Ernest Cline as a good "gamer book", and after the initial recommendation I found I was hearing more and more about it through various channels. Finally I found myself on a long plane flight (one of my favorite occasions to curl up with a good page turner), so I bought a copy off of Apple's iBooks Store and dug in.
The Future is Bleak
We've already learned from The Matrix and Terminator movies that mankind's inventions will eventually rise up and enslave or kill their inventors. Cline presents an equally plausible (and troubling) vision somewhere between that and A Brave New World where some brilliant game developers eventually create a fully immerse MMO that is so good, no one ever wants to stop playing. Most of the human population becomes addicted to the escape of "The OASIS", and the existing world problems of corporate corruption, poverty, and world hunger only accelerate because basically no one pays attention now that they have something more entertaining to do.
The plot of RPO, set in this bleak future, follows the paths of several players of this simulation who are seeking an "easter egg" left by one of the developers named James Halliday. Halliday was rather eccentric and a capital "G" geek, and decided to will his considerable fortune to the individual that could find said "egg". Many antics ensue, complete with an archetypal "bad guy" corporation trying to take over the "OASIS" and generally crap on everything that is cool in the world. The book starts a little slow, but picks up pace. By the end I was on the edge of my seat rooting for the good guys, and cursing the progress of the evil IOA corporation.
"e" is Probably Better for Me
Combined with a recent experience reading Ender's Game, I've decided I really like reading sci-fi books in ebook format. Certainly the convenience of having the book available to me everywhere is nice, but another strange perk is that I don't know exactly when the book will end. When reading a paperback, I unconsciously take account of the thinning number of pages as I approach the end of the book, and somehow that seems to somewhat rob me of the suspense of the ending. Most ebooks I've read seem to be padded with hundreds of pages of filler at the end, and since the page numbering is inflated for the small size of the screen I'm reading on - I'm never really sure if there is one more chapter there. For some books, the resoluteness of turning the final page may bring some needed closure - but for these last two I've read I ended up riding high right to the finish. I was utterly gripped by RPO's conclusion, and as there is already a movie in the works directed by Stephen Spielburg.... I can't wait to see those scenes.
I know... I know...
Though their was much I liked about the book, and I definitely recommend it, there was a small nagging subplot. In a future world of video game simulation addicts with devastating real-world problems, Cline's seeming need to emphasize that the OASIS was a hollow facsimile of real life felt a little on the preachy side. In a book layered with so many geek references that only the most card carrying 3lit3 can hope to understand them all, it hardly seems fair to pass judgment. I suppose I wouldn't have minded it as much if I could have identified with the character's self reflections, but rather than complex inner struggles they tended to come across as "playing too many video games is bad, you should go outside more". I'm sure I only rankle at that advice because a) I know it's true b) I can imagine it being said in my Mom's voice.