Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Tags: Boy Fantasy, VR, Dystopian Future
Reflections: With the impending release of the video adaptation, I was recently lent the book Ready Play One. After a week of effort, I finally finished reading it. I also finished reading the third and final installment in Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic series, The Paladin Caper. I bring this up because there are some strong similarities between these high fantasy novels; only one was well written and one was boring.
As I have mentioned in an older post, the Rogues of the Republic series is a blending of Ocean’s 11 crossed with high fantasy Dungeons and Dragons. Ready Player One is a nearly dystopian, virtual reality fantasy that was written by someone who loves the idea of D&D. Both books pull heavily on D&D style fantasy elements and trops. The difference is Ready Player One references D&D with key phrases like: I collected my ring of power and stashed in my bag of holding with an ancient sword that added +5 to my attack value. Yes, there are lots of terms from D&D embedded in the book, but there is less of an integration of the concepts. Mostly it is a series of references that do not help with world emersion.
Whereas in Rogues of the Republic the D&D elements come out as character types and world design. Only these are not simple flat caricatures, the book has a complex ensemble that includes a shapeshifting unicorn, a talking warhammer, a death priests, a wizard and many others. Despite the large cast of characters, they are all interesting and individual with complete backstories and personal goals. It is fun to watch how they all interact together on the page.
Both books focus around a fetch quest and even include some con work to accomplish the main quest. While the fetch quest of Ready Player One is the main point of the book. It spends a great deal of time coming up with clever riddles that are so vague they could literally reference anything – as long is it was part of the 1980’s. The unique (selling?) feature of Ready Player One is the constant passing reference to music, movies, and occasional books from the 1980’s. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the references that can be used by the reader to understand the oblique clues. The clues must all be explained and even then there is no logic or elegant flow to their reasoning.
In contrast, the Rogues of the Republic is an over the top con-theft story. That wraps nicely together come the end. Internally, the world is logical. The heist may be ridiculous but it is written in such a way that sweeps the reader along. The surprising twists seem to come out of nowhere, but in the end it does make sense. Everything works and then it all ties together.
The biggest difference between the two stories is the method of telling, or the style of the author. Rogues of the Republic is well written and highly entertaining. The characters are complex, the world is internally consistent, and the banter between individuals is vastly amusing. The author is good about including diversity, adding some social commentary in a way that is not hamfisted or last minute additions. Most importantly, Patrick Weekes is good about showing and not just telling. There is lots of action, the characters are always doing something, even if doing involves conversing with someone else.
Ready Player One suffers from poor writing, that is largely boring. There are long swaths of exposition (the first 10 chapters), which demonstrate a poor concept of their world and a number of logical concerns (internally speaking). The dialogue between characters sounds is largely dumb – with all characters sounding like 15 year old boys. And let’s face it, 15 year old boy are not known for their witticisms. The first conversation that final broke up the monotony of the main character’s stream of conscious thought devolved into a series of 1980’s style insults with no purpose or substance.
Also the author spends way too much time explaining… well everything. Including words. With the story set in a not to distant future, focussing mostly on the virtual reality of that time, you would expect the audience to be mostly young boys (teenagers). Much of the content is wish fulfillment for male nerds. So, it baffles me that the author spends the first half-dozen (or more) chapters defining terms like VR, XP, PvP, and MMO. Granted, my mother might not know these terms, but then I don’t think she would have picked up this book anyway. The other one that really stood out to me, was the discussion about how people could make money in this alternate VR world as though it was something new. People have been buying and selling skins for years now. And even I know about marketplaces and microtransactions. Mostly, it seemed like Clive was writing about Gabe and Valve. (personal perspective only)
While Ready Player One is far from the worst book I have read, it is not one that I would strongly recommend. It is filled with tons of 80’s references which fail to develop into anything more than “hey, remember the 80’s, cause like, yeah… that’s all I got”.
If you want something more, something well written, fun and still filled with crazy high fantasy elements, then pick up Rogues of the Republic instead. This trilogy is filled with all the D&D references you could want, all the major heist adventure you could hope for and is actually well written too!