What We’re Actually Reading: Ready Player One

Posted on August 12, 2015 by

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Every now and again, someone asks us to make recommendations on what books we’re actually reading. And then I remember that I haven’t updated this semi-regular feature for like half a year. And then I remember that I haven’t read any good books lately.

Ready Player One

When I was in middle school, my friend and I co-wrote a story that was an absurd mishmash of our favorite video games and cartoons. If I’m remembering this correctly, it was mostly Final Fantasy characters, but it wasn’t fanfiction, because the plot had something to do with outer space and snowboarding and lightsabers or something. Basically it was just us throwing all the silly shit we liked in other stories into one story of our own. I recall it being good fun, although nowadays there isn’t anything I remember about that story aside from how it was just a collection of references to preexisting stories.

If you’re familiar with Ready Player One at all, you might have guessed where I’m going with this.

ready player one

Ready Player One is a science fiction novel starting from a mildly Matrix-y place where most of humanity spends all their time plugged into a massive, virtual reality simulation. The environment, political climate, and social inequality have all gone totally, helplessly to shit. The creator of the simulation, called OASIS, has died and turned his will into a treasure hunt he secretly coded into OASIS, where whoever solves the puzzles first wins control of his company and his fortune. A madcap, planet-consuming race begins to find this easter egg hidden in the game, with a rival company taking part in the hunt too to exploit a loophole in the will and take it over. Main character Wade joins forces with his friend, two kids from Japan, and a girl he’s obviously going to get with by the end of the book to get there first.

But I was intrigued. Humanity escaping to a virtual safe space and ignoring the mass poverty and environmental crises in the real world around them? Kind of a haunting, not-unbelievable take on our own future, from the looks of things. Yet I had some qualms about the story in the back of my head. I talked with my friend about them, since he said he was interested in what I’d make of the book. And I needed to know if I was being pedantic or not.

Matthew: if Wade could scan the planet for a cave that looked like what he always suspected it would look like and found it in minutes… why exactly did no one else do that? like just scan planets for features that looked like the cave that surely someone else could have figured it might look like? I get there’s a lot of planets, but that seems way easier than the years-long physical searches the book was describing that other players were doing

Sam: Oh yeah that’s the biggest plot hole IMO
like how would you not notice the GIANT SKULL CAVE
on the SCHOOL PLANET

Matthew: where EVERYONE GOES?

Sam: I was immediately like “bullshit, that didn’t happen”

Consensus: I wasn’t being pedantic! Yay?

But then the narrative kept going. There were some briefly explored themes of existential crisis that hit me surprisingly hard, but I think it was more so because they struck some very Matthew-specific anxieties more so than Ready Player One had a particularly novel take on them. Or even continued exploring them. And that was a pattern I started noticing more and more frequently.

But before I get to that part, which was the main thing that brought down the story for me, I’d like to quickly go over the #2 thing: the obligatory evil corporation villains who do evil because… they’re… evil?

Matthew: the villains’ motivations don’t make sense to me
their whole thing is that the oasis isn’t properly “monetized”
and they want to, basically, charge a monthly fee and moderate content
so here’s what’s wrong with that
as it’s described, OASIS is basically a freemium game. which are a super profitable model these days, especially in comparison to monthly subscriptions? but, sure, they’re an out-of-touch old money tech company. they’re like, say, microsoft.
but even microsoft did a 180 on every single detail of the xbox one because of consumer discontent
I’m not buying it

Sam: I guess one could argue that these people would run OASIS into the ground for the sake of immediate profitability

Matthew: I guess
I guess that’s the big oil strategy, so it’s not like it doesn’t have a precedent
wow that’s depressing

But let’s cut to the chase.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

You know how House of Night has these weird little details that are supposed to flesh out a fun, alternate modern day world of vampyres and humans, but these details are usually just “James Franco is a vampyre!” Which doesn’t actually say anything about the world that they live in, but instead just points at cool shit, so the reader thinks about that cool shit too, but not actually the book they’re reading? Ready Player One is that exact problem, but dozens of times per page.

And that’s what kills it. I was really interested for the first hundred pages or so, but it’s incredible how quickly and how thoroughly the novel loses interest in its own worldbuilding just to take opportunity after opportunity to simply say “Hey! The Jeffersons was a thing!”

So, yeah, I don’t think I’d recommend it. It’s a silly read that you’ll breeze through in a couple hours, but – to use a video game analogy here seems apropos – there’s a lot of grinding to get through.

Also Some Songs You Should Listen To

We threw a party for my roommate’s birthday last weekend, and played music off the TV, which was streaming YouTube through Chromecast, because this is the future we apparently live in now. One of my friends caught onto this and hijacked the playlist towards the end of the evening and put on some mildly surreal music videos to see if anyone would notice. A few people were mesmerized by Goldfish‘s “Get Busy Living”, as I’m sure that knowing I was at a party playing electronic nu jazz in Brooklyn completes whatever mental picture you have of me.

If you were hoping for an assortment of obscure song recommendations from me, I also discovered lately I really like The Clash, so, uh, sorry.

Since I last did one of these posts, I also got really into podcasts for the first time, so I get some recommendations from NPR’s All Songs Considered, which recently did a 90s episode. Yes, I’m getting into All Songs Considered now. Not when I interned at NPR. I’m not good at things. Anyway, listen to some Lauryn Hill and enjoy how wonderful this sounds. I need more female rappers in my music collection. Recommendations would be appreciated.

I also discovered a reconstruction of Weezer’s Songs From The Black Hole, which is an abandoned concept album they were working on before they shifted focus and made Pinkerton instead. Given that Pinkerton is one of my favorite albums, it’s strange to discover songs I like just as much from an album that almost existed instead of Pinkerton.

So how about you? Share any books you’re reading or music you’ve been listening to in the comments!

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