Since he is absolutely taking me to see the Hollywood movie adaptation, my husband Matthew recently decided to read my copy of Ready Player One. Unusually, he devoured the book in just five days, which is exceptional considering he rarely reads fiction (he’s a biography and nonfiction reader). For anyone who hasn’t yet explored the amazing virtual reality future created by author Ernest Cline, or for those who’d like a recap of the story before watching the movie, Matthew shares this guest post on The Quirky Writer. Fittingly, this is his first.
What’s your escape? You know, that place you go or that thing you do when you want to leave life behind and forget reality, at least for a few moments. Maybe you close your eyes and imagine you’re lounging on your favorite sandy spot on a remote tropical island, sipping a cold beverage as the waves wash ashore. Or perhaps you just retreat from your surroundings and the day-to-day demands of your career and your family to indulge in a guilty pleasure every now and then. A scandalous favorite TV show. A high-calorie food snack. We all have—need—an escape.
For teenager Wade Watts, and every other character in Ernest Cline’s first novel Ready Player One, the entire world has become both something to elude and an actual portal itself. The book transports us to a dilapidated United States of America in the year 2044, and the physical world has atrophied to a point of being nearly unrecognizable to our present-day mind’s eyes. Living conditions are undesirable for all who do not possess vast financial wealth and prominence, including Wade.
We quickly learn in the story that Wade’s only hideout, his only defense in a world dead set on his failure, is the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, known simply and magnificently as the OASIS. Imagine a lifelike virtual reality world that includes an unimaginable expansion and improvement upon the current Internet browsing, social media and video-conferencing landscape, as well as the ability to be the main character in a vast and unlimiting video game quest, and you’ve started to grasp the basic concepts and capabilities of the OASIS and the world of Ready Player One. In short, this place crushes the app-based world we currently inhabit, surrounded by Snapchats and fleeting fads like Pokemon Go, which debut as marvels but appear clunky compared to the never-ending possibilities of the OASIS.
USA Today describes Ready Player One as “Enchanting…Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” Believe that description, and so much more. I imagine it’s that very characterization that led to the Wonka-esque music bed on the Ready Player One movie trailer. This I know: The story of Ready Player One takes us to a world of pure imagination.
The author Cline has created an alternate universe with thorough research of the past, incredible imagination of the future, and the shocking accuracy of the present, to drop every reader into a place that masterfully blurs the lines of true reality and virtual reality. Often during my first reading of the book I found myself fretting for the lives of the protagonist Wade and his closest companions, only to remember that it was their avatars, their three-dimensional digital characters, who were in danger. Or was it?
The OASIS, a worldwide contest for its control and the fortune of its creator James Halliday are the propellers that transport the plot throughout the entire book. We learn that Halliday created an ultimate quest with an offer of both virtual immortality and real-life fame and fortune as the rewards. Along the way, Cline gradually introduces us to the life stories of both Halliday and Wade, who become intricately linked, particularly by their views of the world and the escape advances in technology can offer.
I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life. Right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.
-James Halliday, Ready Player One
I encourage you to read Ready Player One, if you haven’t already, and to discover whether Wade finds true happiness by the end of the story. I will reveal to you that he encounters complex challenges and lessons about friendship, love and his own confidence during his journey, along with enough American pop culture history references to fill both real and virtual lifetimes.
Cline professes to be a full-time geek, and his first novel offers nearly 400 pages of proof, with endless and well-informed references to ancient video games, popular 1980s film and television trivia, and more nerd culture than even the savant-minded Big Bang Theory can imagine.
Perhaps it’s that connection to the 1980s, the decade of my birth, that attracted me to this book, a total departure from my normal reading interests. I’m by far not a prolific consumer of science fiction, or any kind of fiction. On a common day, you’ll find me turning pages of the latest sports biography or a true story about common people that’s inspired by real-life events.
Therein lies the key to the magnet by which Ready Player One stuck to me and just wouldn’t let go. While Cline has fabricated this future American scenario with his vibrant imagination, the vivid markers of its technological advancement despite a ruined society are entirely possible and extremely realistic. And that’s only become more true in the several years since the book was first published in 2011. We’re experiencing total upheaval in the United States, and around the world, right now. The downright safety of humanity is in question, as division dominates every conceivable topic of our existence. It’s a world from which we all need an escape, seemingly at least once every day.
Cline offers the option for the price of a copy of Ready Player One.
Matthew Tessnear is a Christian writer who lives in his native North Carolina. He is currently working on his first book and owns two blogs, an online journal about his battle with anxiety, titled Man Down, and a food blog co-founded and operated with Molly, known as #FoodieScore.