Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One was published and got some fanfare, but no Nebula or Hugo award nomination, back in 2011.  I received it as a gift about a year ago and just got to reading it.  It's a fine novel and I'm glad I read it.  It also made the year 2011 a little more interesting for me, in that we had an attempt at a genre.  I'll call it the Name Dropper.

 Ready Player One is a paen to 70's and 80's pop culture, packed with more references to sitcoms, manga, speculative fiction, and particularly console videogames than could possibly be fully digested.  Many of the references are familiar, and for the less familiar ones Cline deftly weaves an explanation into the narrative. 

There was another book published that year to somewhat less external fanfare but it received both Hugo and Nebula nominations for 2012--Among Others, by Jo Walton.  Walton was much more focused on speculative fiction, and her references could very nearly create a catalog of the best SF of the era.

Both of these books were immensely popular with critics--fans of the genre who are deeply familiar with all of the references made.  They really make an old fan like me happy as they bring back all the good plots before them, as well as their own contribution.

On the flip side, these works are pretty much inaccessible to anyone who's read less than 100 SF novels or didn't live in those times.  Ready Player One in particular would be very difficult for many people under the age of 50 to appreciate, because only the author or his protagonist (impoverished, withdrawn Wade Owen Watts) would have the time and focus to catch up all those references at a young age.

My copy has a review on the cover that says "Willy Wonka meets William Gibson", which I find to be pretty much correct.  There is a large body of YA novels that feature an eccentric, wealthy man setting up an elaborate, immersive retreat from the world, who is ready to share that retreat with a worthy successor.  This is a slightly more grown up version, but not necessarily a lot more grown up.  In fact as I think about it, hardly at all.  The writing certainly isn't strictly adult level in terms of themes (the violence and sexuality is totally preadolescent safe), but it's clever and as said above carries the references well. 

If you like this sort of thing you have probably read Ready Player One already, but if you put it off like I did you should definitely retain your intention to getting to it.  It is worth the time.  Four stars for me.

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