Books of 2016 – January: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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I have a rule when reading a book. If I get to 100 pages and I am not gripped I will stop reading the book. This has saved me from a lot of pointless reading and let me read good books instead of trash.

With Ready Player One I did not have that option. I read it for a book club and because my boss recommended it and because I had told you guys I would. That meant I had to read the whole damn thing from exposition heavy beginning to tensionless ending.

This book is one of the worst books I have ever read that wasn’t self-published (and it wasn’t because I kept checking) or in the early phases of drafting. It is boring, smug, badly written, lacking conflict, lacking drama, lacking tension and pointless.

It’s protagonist, Wade, is a smug know it all who is never stumped by anything, can do everything, and is well-loved for no reason other than that he is the main character in this book. He is the kind of person who thinks that being able to recite the year an old video game was released counts as an achievement worthy of universal praise. He is the kind of person who describes himself to a woman as a being a ‘nice guy’. He is the kind of person who talks at length about not caring what a girl looks like and then spends a page talking about how muscly he is.

The writer, Ernest Cline, has obviously never heard of the rule show don’t tell as he proceeds to, at every opportunity, tell rather than show. The book is nine tenths boring description. The first part of the book is all laboriously described set up and unnecessary world-building before anything even remotely exciting happens, and even then once that event occurs it’s quickly undercut with more description and telling, endless telling.

For example, there is a large part of the book dedicated to a mind-numbing description of Wade’s apartment and his sweet game system. Each single piece of the system is described with minute detail. Rather than putting Wade in the vast video game land and have him do something interesting (i.e. a quest, fighting zombies, dragon hunting, etc.) where he can show you the awesome features of the system, Cline simply goes from part to part describing it’s form and function. After this catalogue style chapter Wade goes on a quest but first he needs to describe his spaceship and tell a brief story about acquiring it. Then he arrives at a planet that may or may not be under control by the bad guys. I know what you’re thinking, this is the bit where a space battle occurs or Wade has to use cunning and stealth to evade a blockade and get to the surface. Well you would be wrong. What happens is Wade describes a Ring of Teleportation that he won in an auction due to his vast wealth before teleporting to the planet. He then has to traverse a dungeon full of monsters which he does in record time because he’s amazing. So, for those of you keeping score, that’s ten pages of description of an apartment and then a page and a half of summary of a daring monster-laded dungeon quest. This outlines another problem with Wade’s character. He is never lost or stuck or seemingly in danger. Because he’s an expert in everything, everything is easy. There was never a point in this book where I feared that the character was in any kind of peril. It also outlines the main problem with the book which is that there is no tension at all. Everything just happens and anything exciting that happens is described to us rather than us seeing the character experience it.

If you don’t believe me that this book is awful look at the below image:

IMAG0719_1 (1)Let’s break it down. First, who talks like this? Can you imagine going somewhere and saying to your friend, “Hey, that castle looks like Hogwarts.” And your friend saying “Yeah, like Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies.” You would just look at them, “Yeah, I know what Hogwarts is. I was the one who made the comparison. Whose benefit was that for? It’s just us here.”

This is constant feature of the book, a reference to something that is then quickly explained. The fun of reading reference heavy books like Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula or Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the integration of the references so that the reader is rewarded for knowing the reference rather than it being spelled out. In Dracula Cha Cha Cha there is a scene in which an olive oil magnate called Vito Corleone is introduced. The text doesn’t then say, “Y’know, from the Godfather” because that would render the whole thing silly. The game is to know the references. And also chances are if you’re reading this book you at least know what Rivendell is, even if some of the more obscure stuff passes you by.

Also if someone has taken the words out of your mouth you can’t then just say them. They have, after all, just been taken out of your mouth.

Could this book be improved? Yes. Cline needs to get out of his own way and let the story breath. Reading this book is like watching The Matrix with someone standing in front of you describing the movie sets. There is a good idea here but Cline can’t seem to articulate the good bits. He spends a ton of time setting up a world and then describing it without taking the time to make Wade likable or to inject the plot with any fun or tension. It is a series of events that happens and then the book ends.

Another irksome part of the book is that love story between Wade and Art3mis. It is a classic nerdy idea of romance as they share all the same interests so must be soulmates. He is also pushy as fuck with her and constantly talks about not caring about what she looks like, which is handy as the big reveal isn’t that she is hideous or a guy, but that she has a birthmark on her face, which obviously doesn’t deter our hero as he is above such things as looks. There is a great opportunity to make some kind of point by having Art3mis, the super geek who he loves because of her mind and interest, turn out to be a guy and really have Wade have to take that on board and deal with it. Instead she is exactly the way she looks in the game (“Rubenesque”…for fuck’s sake) but with a birthmark, so the whole thing is essentially meaningless and only serves to feed into the idea that Wade is perfect.

Finally, the book quickly defines morals as being black or white. You are a good guy or a bad guy and that’s it. SPOILERS – Ogden Morrow, the eccentric billionaire who handily Deus Ex Machina’s them to safety should have been the villain. Rather than the bad guy being the faceless corporation, have Halliday’s partner be the villain. Have the reason they fell out be something to do with Morrow’s greed or have Morrow hold some grudge against Halliday for Kira’s death. Paint Halliday in shades other that pure benevolent white. END SPOILERS.

Overall, a godawful book. It’s boring, weirdly neck-beardy, smug, full of unlikable characters, full of unrealistic dialogue, tensionless, conflict-less and pointless. I have no idea why this book is so popular because it would never have passed the 100 page test. It would have gone straight off the balcony the second I hit page one-hundred and one.

And why does I-r0k (sic?) get such a dramatic introduction just to vanish from the plot altogether. Was it just to show that Wade is an insufferable asshole about his video game knowledge? If so, mission accomplished.

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