Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.  

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.

A quest for the ultimate prize.

Are you ready?


Ready Player One is a nostalgic blast from the past. It aims to capture the mood and the spirit of the 80’s in a futuristic sci-fi novel. While the premise of the plot is fairly thin on several accounts, the nostalgia and numerous references will have many readers who were born in in the eighties nodding their heads and grinning to themselves. There are myriad cultural icons listed in the book, and chief amongst them are eighties classic games and movies such as Blade Runner, War Games, Pac Man, Adventure and Zork.

Nostalgic naval gazing aside, the world painted in the story is rather bleak. Massive companies vie for control of the last vestiges of freedom and solace that the people are offered. Global economies have been devastated and millions of people live on or below the poverty line. Elsewhere, the corporations stockpile wealth and influence in order to bring them to bear on anyone who gets in the way of their goals.

The OASIS has become the be all and end all of many people’s lives. It has become the default communication tool, business venue and social hub as well as being a giant game that spans an entire universe. Within the OASIS, education and information are made freely available, so even the poorest of the poor can have a chance at a better life. The OASIS is the one refuge that Wade Watts has from his harsh life and abusive relatives. He’s dirt poor, but he has the OASIS. He has dedicated his life to discovering the secrets of the OASIS in an attempt to win a competition which would see him become the richest and most influential man in the whole world.

Wade is not the only seeker of this fame and fortune. There are many independent adventurers and guilds dedicated to finding the prize. In more than five years, however, absolutely no progress has been made. Even the economic and computational might of the massive corporations cannot crack the mystery of Anorak’s Invitation and make a first step on the path to completing the competition.

Suddenly, one day, Wade Watts appears at the top of the high score list. It’s a list that no one has ever seen change or move. It’s a list that people were beginning to think was a hoax. Suddenly, Wade is famous, adored by the masses and on every television around the world. But also now, the corporations want his knowledge, or they want him out of the competition; permanently.

Wade also has other things to worry about. Mighty distractions in his hunt that threaten to derail him from his goal; his burgeoning love life, and his complicated relationship with an in game avatar of a person he has never seen. With the odds stacking against him, will he win the competition? Will he even complete it? Will he survive long enough to complete the next goal?

Ready Player One is a well written book that engages the reader and has them cheering for the underdog. Not only a tale of adventure – the race to attain the coveted prize – it is also a tactfully addressed love story, a buddy book and a tale of coming of age and acceptance in to the world. All of these elements combine well in to a coherent whole that never seems to ramble or drag its feet too much.

The villains are clear cut, the heroes relatively unambiguous and there are never any deus ex machina moments that leave the reader with a perplexed scowl on their face. Although the characters’ moralities are clear cut, their personalities are well rounded and developed. None of them ever feels like a cardboard cut-out.

For pedants and obsessive compulsives, and computer scientists, there are a few incongruities with the rules of the vast and complex game universe of OASIS that are mildly irksome. The joy of recalling a misspent youth vicariously through the exploits of the protagonists generally overpowers such feelings in short order.

Fans of video games, children of the eighties and lovers of happy endings should apply for this ride. The price of admission is well worth the journey that can be experienced. Rekindle a fire in your heart for Space Invaders, put some Billy Idol on to the 8-track and make sure your shoulder pads are set to maximum size. You’ll be sure to need them all in short order.

  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Demographic: Young Adult and up
  • Rating Out of Five: 4
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Find At: The Book Depository
  • Published: October 2011

3 thoughts on “Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s