Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Adjust your joysticks, fanboys: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Fanboys of the world, I’d say this one is for you, but chances are you’re rolling your eyes at that belated statement, given that the United States movie rights for this one were obtained for the low price of 7 million dollars and it’s got some newb of a director called Spielberg attached.  That’s right - JUST the rights for the US.  For the rest of us less...say, fervent nerds, behold a book we can read and enjoy instead of fighting crowds at Comicon (#neverwilliever), or reading a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs romance fan fiction (if this exists and you find it for me, I will buy you a pizza.  Seriously.  That will be your Easter Egg).  That is also to say, I, an avowed video game h8r enjoyed it, and suspect many of you nerds/geeks on all ends of the spectrum (like to fervent to obsessive) who enjoy fun adventure books will too (but I didn’t think there were enough BSG or Goonies references, so WHAT UP, Mr. Cline?  Sloth love Chunk.).  

It is 2044, and the world is a dystopia meets technerd utopia. The climate and world, physically and politically, are a big ole mess; people live in urban squalor, and more or less everyone spends all day plugged into a virtual world called the Oasis in some capacity: schools, business, government, entertainment, banking and commerce (I’m assuming Bitcoins finally took off), etc. - it all happens 24/7 in the Oasis,  an immersive virtual reality accessed via some recognizable yet futuristic technology: visors, consoles, gaming systems, sensor suits, etc.  When Oasis cofounder and owner, the eccentric 80’s enthusiast, recluse, and billionaire James Halliday dies, he leaves behind a will in video form stipulating that he has created a treasure hunt and hidden virtual three keys inside the Oasis that unlock an Easter Egg: ownership of his entire fortune and his owning stake in the Oasis. Wade Watts, a (virtual) high school senior, and millions of others around the virtual and physical world become obsessed with finding it.  Wade, or Parzival, as his avatar is known online, however, is the first person to find a key.  The virtual world begins to bleed even more into the physical world, and danger becomes more than a virtual reality. Wade soon finds himself in deeper than he ever could have imagined.  

There are too many ways to count the 80’s pop culture references, and there is enough adventure, fun, nerd romance, nostalgia, and moments of distorted looking glass recognition in this bizzarely plausible future; it’s much more Wall-E than Gattica, if you will.  It’s super fun, period, but I admit to suspecting you’ll find it more fun if you’re over 28ish and have a functional memory of the 80’s.  It’s enjoyable too if you like dystopias, techy sci-fi, Xbox, World of Warcraft (give these little Minecrafters 10 years and they’ll be on board, Mr. Cline), want an Ender’s Game readalike but aren’t a homophobe, and are roughly 13 and up (there’s some naughty words, I think, if you care about that).  

This book is an 80’s trivia game in and of itself, but beyond that it’s a bit more. The world Ready Player One is set in is a stark condemnation of practices and society in Recession-era days, when I assume Ernest Cline was writing this pseudo escapist futuresque nerd fairy tale. It’s certainly an interesting look at the fear experienced in the wake of the Recession, generated by the undeniable evidence of climate change, and the addictive nature of technology and increasing integration into our everyday lives.  It’s also a look at the passionate nature of fandom - of belonging to something bigger than yourself, and loving something passionately.  

I suspect many people who are the most ardent about this book feel that way because they self identify in it.  To me, it does show that belonging is a powerful feeling, even or especially so for the most isolated. Tt explains a lot about why fandoms, gaming or other online communities, fan conventions, etc. have boomed and grown exponentially since the dawn of the Internet.  While there are definitely some moments I found myself rolling my eyes at how quickly fandom can become a pissing contest to see who likes what better and how*, this is also a book with some self awareness.  Being totally plugged in can have a cost, and Ernest Cline would like us to all take note of the negative in his utopian view of the future net.  Behold:
I stepped into the kitchen and took out a can of Sludge, a high-protein, Vitamin D-infused breakfast drink (to help counteract my sunlight deprivation)... Standing there, under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth.  In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit.  A recluse.  A pale-skinned pop-culture obsessed geek.  An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact.  I was just another sad, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified videogame. 
But not in the Oasis.  In there, I was Parzival. World famous gunter and international celebrity...I was paid to endorse products.  People looked up to me...I was a pop-culture icon...I was a legend.  Nay, a god.  (198)
Spot the eye roll? But really, I think a big point in this book is that second dimension richness can be very satisfying, but notably vitamin D deficient, and therefore, incomplete. Fresh air is good for us people, as is seeing another human or like...fitness and diet and taking care of your physical self so you don’t wind up like a human in Wall-E.  Even if you’re a stud online.  Take advantage of technology, but reach out, be self and world aware, and cultivate and experience life in the third dimension.  For that, I recommend reading this book, outside.  Enjoy!  

* But seriously, fanboys and girls of the world: it’s a disservice to what you are trying to one up everyone else about when you do this.  Why do you feel the need to be so self important about whatever it is you are trying to prove your knowledge/love of?  Why the need to be best in all the lands?  You didn’t create that thing!  I fail to understand, clearly, but what I do understand is that you’re discouraging people from whatever your passion is, and trust me, there’s enough to go around of whatever it is (how many episodes of Buffy are there?  How many Vulcan salutes, video games, Benecio del Toro trivia questions etc. Yeah.  LOTS. You can share and still feel special.)  Try encouraging people - you don’t need to feel superior if you truly love something!  Be nice!  I’m convinced that this is why Apple is so successful; those Geniuses are actually really pleasant and willing to share their knowledge!  As my mom likes to vigorously point out, you catch more flies with honey than sour milk (or maybe it’s lemon juice...I might have stopped paying attention roughly when my milk teeth started falling out).  I can’t believe you just made me rant like my mother.  

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