Friday, November 16, 2012

Ready Player One (A Book Review)

My Rating: 8/10

A change of pace for a moment - I just finished reading this and wanted to post a review because I suspect it's a book that will tickle any KFP reader. "Ready Player One" was terrific. I listened to the audiobook read by Wil Wheaton and I don't even know where to begin in describing it. If you're my age (40-something), if you like 80's movies or music, if you like anime, if you're a MMORPG gamer, if you're a tabletop gamer, if you're ANY of these things, then you will probably really enjoy it. It is an unbelievable mixer of geek culture references.

It's about a grim future where most of the planet spend their time inside the Oasis, an endless MMORPG universe which is user-modifiable, so custom-created planets exist for pretty much anything one can imagine or ever liked (There are entire planets based on Ultraman lore, for instance). The creator of all this has died and left his virtual empire (and trillions of real dollars) to whoever can figure out his ultimate puzzle, an adventure laid out in riddles, gates, and pop culture references from the 70's-90's. Young hero Wade is an avid but poor gamer who has a manic fixation on the riddle, and who manages to unravel the first part of the clues to start him onto the long path to the prize. Along the way, it references everything you can think of, seriously.


Ultraman Godzilla Rush Highlander Ghostbusters Nostromo TRS-80s Adventure Colossal Cave Tabletop D&D Tomb of Horrors Pat Benatar Defender Shogun Warriors... Hell, I could be typing all night. Suffice to say that if you like the idea of running through a virtual Tomb of Horrors to track down the priests of the temples at Syrinx to find Alex Lifeson's guitar embedded in an altar stone waiting to be drawn and played with the right notes to summon the Schoolhouse Rock spirits, then you'll probably enjoy this book. And not all of that is in the book, I made parts of that sentence up so as not to spoiler things, but it's actually about 1/100000th the level of geek culture overload that the book will hit you with.

It's great. Funny, very clever, and always in motion. Wade has to not only compete with his in-game friends but also stay a step ahead of the requisite Evil Corporation that is intent on winning the prize and then monetizing the hell out of the Oasis (Why NOT have to pay for every login and sit through 15 minutes of McDonald's commercials before your gaming session starts?).

Oh, and a non-spoiler to give some of the flavor of the ideas involved - The Oasis is not just for gaming, Wade goes to school there also, on a non-PvP planet dedicated to education by the government. The gov can create school after school so no more budget limitations, which means the in-game schools are majestic cathedrals. A class consists of students logging in and appearing in the school, then assembling in their classroom which can then become the surface of Europa, if the lesson of the day is on other planets. They can walk across computer models of Venus and Pluto, tour the bottom of the ocean, or step directly into recreations of classic literature to experience the stories firsthand. This is the virtual campus of the book's future. After school, you can hang out on planetary recreations of Ringworld, Middle Earth, Star Trek starbases, or spend your time kicking back in Buckaroo Banzai's lab.
Negatives?  There isn't a lot of character depth aside from the geek reference avalanche.  Wade and his friends are basically young, virtuous good guys and the romantic subplot is fairly standard, as is everyone and everything about EvilCo Inc.   Age-wise, it's appeal is a tough guess. People 35-50 will probably enjoy it the most, and anyone much younger will probably miss a lot of the in-references... BUT they'll be more familiar with the SF VR gaming culture of the story, so it might even out. Hell, there were references in this that I didn't get, and I caught the comments about the original "Chainmail" editions of pre-D&D. You will appreciate this the most if you have an exhaustive knowledge of everything 80's and can quote movie lines from "Wargames". If you can't hum at least 4 or 5 Schoolhouse Rock songs off the top of your head, you'll probably be lost.  These are minor complaints, though, because this is not a book about the depths of the human heart - It's a wild vacation through Nostalgia Land and reading it is like spending an evening pumping quarters into an arcade machine at the pizza parlor all over again.

West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

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