Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Random House, 2011

I read Ready Player One over a year ago, but somehow never got around to posting my review of it here on my blog. Given that it’s one of my all-time favorite novels—and given how often I now compare other books to it—I really should post my review. So, here it is…

Ready Player One is a nostalgia trip like no other. It’s an ode to the rise of gaming and geek culture, a recollection of the early history of geekdom, all crammed between the covers of a really good future dystopian SF novel.

Most of the time, nostalgia bores me. I find affectionate trips down our cultural memory lane insipid, overly rose-tinted, and saccharine.

Ready Player One, though, grabbed me from the very first page and wouldn’t let me go. It kept me up past my bedtime, it kept me off my computer and social media, because reading it was the only thing I wanted to do.

This novel is far more than just a geeky trip. It offers the reader a compelling and fully realized dystopian world. It presents characters who we care about, unique and believable people who we root for. It gives us an elemental conflict of good vs. evil.

Take out all the explicit gaming and geek references, and Ready Player One is still a really good story, set in a believable world. It’s a fine SF novel by any standard.

Furthermore, the nostalgia in this book isn’t just nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. It’s essential to the fabric of the story—it defines the context and environment of the action; it’s necessary to the motivations and passions of the characters; it informs the stakes of the conflict. This trip down memory lane isn’t just window dressing.

The story pulls you along at an incredible pace. The momentum of the narrative, the steadily increasing stakes of the conflict—these elements combine to generate a sense of excitement just like the excitement we all felt when we first started playing video games, or when we sat down with friends to embark on a new D&D campaign, or when the lights dimmed in the theatre for a groundbreaking anime film.

In its own way, reading this book recreates the essential experience of these treasured moments in our geeky lives.

Ready Player One is far more than just a nostalgia trip. It speaks to our hearts and reminds us why we fell in love with games and movies and TV shows and comics in the first place.

And it’s a damn fine story, to boot.

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