Ready Player One
Posted on 02 September 2011, 5:31
My bedtime reading at the mo is the engrossing Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which is just out in paperback. It’s a novel set in the year 2044, 30 years into a great depression so bad that the final decades of the 20th century look like a golden age. Our man on the spot is high school student Wade Watts, who lives with his aunt in the stacks, mobile homes stacked 20 high without proper sanitation, and which give ‘trailer park trash’ a whole new depth of meaning.
Cline has given his novel a thriller-like plot, but what is fascinating me as I read is the book’s reflection on Internet culture and online worlds. Social conditions in the story are so dire that most people escape by immersing themselves in the OASIS, a virtual universe of cosmic dimensions which provides them with all the education, entertainment and relationships they need. In this sense, the novel is a credible imagining of how the virtual world might develop.
A well as peering into the future, Ready Player One cleverly invokes the familiar past, as the culture of 2044 is fixated on the 1980s and the beginning of the digital era. The novel is rich in references to the TV shows, computer games, movies, comic books, magazines and other cultural debris of the 80s, and this scheme, where the reader is in the time between Wade Watts’ world and the Thatcher-Reagan era, is as beguiling as can be. It evokes nostalgia and futureshock in one hit.
Some reviewers are hailing the book as a worthy successor to William Gibsons’s landmark 1984 novel, Neuromancer, which fixed the term cyberspace in modern culture. Whatever the unlikely merits of that comparison, this is a book worth reading in its own right, both for sheer entertainment and thinking about the state of cyberculture.