I only started book blogging in August 2016, and therefore wasn’t as plugged in to the book blogging community back in 2011 when Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was first released. I actually was under the impression that the book came out much more recently, as I’ve consistently seen glowing reviews of it on book blogs in the last two years.
What made me decide to finally pick it up is honestly that I wanted to compare it to the recently released movie version for a blog feature. I didn’t know what to expect and thought that it would be hard for me to relate to a book focused on video games and 80s pop culture – which is really the reason I didn’t pick it up earlier.
What actually happened is that I spent nearly the entire day on Good Friday, sitting in my beach tent in front of the Pacific, absolutely captivated by this novel. That night, with about 30% of the book left to read, I went to watch the movie and was just as affronted as long time fans of the book at how far it strayed, to its detriment, from the novel. You can read my thoughts on the movie version as well as my full review of the book below!
I wasn’t one of the people who read the book back in 2011, right after its publication, loved it, and who then had to wait nearly 7 years for the movie to come out. I didn’t have the same level of expectations built up as a result, but because I did read the book right before watching the movie (on the same day in fact), the significant discrepancies between the two were even more jarring for me.
The producers and writers of the movie (which included Spielberg of course) understandably struggled with copyright and licensing issues in figuring out how to feature the many video games, movies, bands and other 80s pop culture references that pervade the novel. They also clearly tried to give the movie a broader appeal by removing the strictly 80s focus and widening the references to encompass all of pop culture. The very unfortunate result was that the essence of the novel was watered down to the point that the movie felt nothing like the book on which it was based and wasn’t half as successful.
The challenges that made up the plot of the movie were nearly all completely different from those in the novel, and were definitely not as focused on video game history. The car chase at the beginning of the movie that replaces the first Joust challenge of the novel felt like nothing more than an excuse to turn the movie into a Fast And Furious style action flick. The Shining challenge started out relatively well – the recreation was creepily accurate and had its funny moments from the start – right up until they lost focus by switching over to a weird flying zombie dance scene (I can’t explain it more clearly than that).
The change that I really disliked the most within the movie, however, was that they turned Wade’s character into a skinny, good-looking kid from the beginning. I feel that a very important part of the novel was Wade’s real-life transformation – his rags to riches story that starts when he has no money to buy extras or travel within the OASIS, hates his real life, and lacks confidence in his real self. It’s a much more relatable beginning than that provided by supplanting the original Wade with Tye Sheridan. As a result, the beginning of the movie doesn’t feel nearly as dystopian as the beginning of the novel, and much of the resulting tension is eliminated, flattening out the emotional appeal of the movie when compared to the novel.
Overall, I was really disappointed in this movie. The pure, innocent and moving essence of a novel that is a love song written to 80s pop culture and video games was substituted for the desire to make yet another glitzy, visually stupefying, action movie that overuses CGI and may induce epileptic seizures in some. Could have skipped it.
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
Publication Date: August 16th 2011
Publisher: Crown/Broadway Books
Length In Hardcover: 374
Goodreads Rating: 4.3
In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past. They promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
Not just for video game fans. I’ve never been hugely into video games but I have two pretty serious video game fans in my family. Both my mother and brother are aficionados, and my brother in particular vlogs on Youtube about his passion. However, you definitely don’t need to love video games to enjoy this book. Even though the novel is completely immersed in the history of video games, futuristic technology and 80s pop culture references, even a novice like me was immediately able to bridge the gap and be drawn into Cline’s world. I was born in the middle of the 80s and so was never an active part of its culture at a conscious phase of my life, but I still got all the references (many of which Cline explains anyways) and was able to relate to the characters and their sense of excitement for the era.
World building. I was truly astounded at the labor that must have gone behind constructing such a realistic version of an entire virtual world in prose (not to mention it’s parallel dystopian reality). Cline brings the OASIS to life in so much intricate detail that it really feels from the very first chapter like you’d be able to pull on your own VR glasses and enter the real deal. From the different planets within this virtual reality, to the history of the OASIS, its creators, the various gear available to access it and the economic and social repercussions of the VR experience on Wade’s world, it’s incredible how flawless the construction of Cline’s setting is. Whenever you think there’s a hole in his plot or an unexplained element of the OASIS, he immediately provides clear and convincing reasoning behind it. I was on board from the very first few pages – it’s a truly immersive experience.
The challenges. This book is jam-packed with action. The structure of the plot is propelled forward by the quest that Wade, Aech and Artemis are pursuing, and the action moves from challenge to gate to subsequent challenge in an unrelenting ride with a new adventure always waiting around the bend. It was really interesting to me that the quest format of the novel’s plot follows in structure the experience of playing an actual video game. It’s almost as if the reader pulls on their own VR glasses every time they pick up the book, following Wade through a new test or level of his journey. Wade’s courage and ingenuity, his extreme passion for anything related to the OASIS and his drive are extremely convincing and engaging. The reader really roots for him – I did at least. He’s also very effectively humanized and made more complex through his strong friendship with Aech and the romance plot embedded in the novel.
Only a few small things. This novel was absolutely excellent. Air-tight in execution, thoroughly engaging in plot and characters – there’s not much more a reader can ask for. I struggled therefore to think of any significant elements that I disliked. All I have left to do is nit-pick. If I had to name two things that could have been even better in the book. I would say that the only female avatar character Artemis feels somewhat male in her actions and responses in the narrative. The novel is definitely told from a heavily male perspective, which is somewhat understandable, but I would have liked a more believable female component. The second thing would be that some of the jokes between Aech and Wade’s characters made me seriously roll my eyes – again probably connected to the predominantly male humor.
This is a novel deeply immersed in a world of video games, VR technology and 80s pop culture, that is a truly amazing read even if you who have no interest whatsoever in any of these topics.
Ernest Cline is a novelist, screenwriter, husband, father, and full-time geek. His first novel, Ready Player One, was an international bestseller, appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists, and is being adapted into a motion picture by Warner Bros. and director Steven Spielberg. His second novel, ARMADA, debuted at #4 on the New York Times Bestseller list and is being made into a film by Universal Pictures. Ernie is married to fellow bestselling author and poet Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. They live in Austin, Texas.
Have you read Ready Player One and/or watched the movie? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read my other recent Just Read reviews, including for contemporary fiction title The Wangs Vs. The World, historical fiction novel The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, nonfiction title The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shapiro, audiobook of Evicted by Matthew Desmond and novel Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict.
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