Everything old is new again, from Ernest Cline’s fantastic ode to the 1980s, through the Steven Spielberg’s upcoming blockbuster film adaptation of Cline’s book. Fitting with the retro theme is 1980s child star Wil Wheaton, who is exceptionally good as the narrator of Ready Player One.
Set in the year 2044, Ready Player One reveals a failed future where most people live in The Stacks – trailer parks where makeshift homes are stacked on top of each other instead of side by side. There’s just no room left in the world. Like most people, young Wade Watts spends the majority of his time in The OASIS, a virtual reality world created by James Halliday. The OASIS has grown so large that it has become a vibrant universe where kids now attend school, consumerism is rife, and adventure can be found across multiple virtual worlds. Its limits seem endless and most of the population is addicted.
When Halliday dies with no heir, his parting gift is a competition. Within The OASIS, he has hidden a series of keys that can only be found by solving his riddles. The first person to claim all the keys will win his fortune, including The OASIS itself. So begins a dangerous race to the finish, with Watts pitted against equally obsessed players and a rich private consortium who is determined to get their hands on The OASIS.
Clines’ story is not only a fun, action-packed adventure, but a journey of self-discovery and friendship, all wrapped up in a magnificent celebration of 1980’s pop culture. Halliday’s own obsession with the era brings back fond memories of Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, bad fashion, and music because his riddles all derive from knowledge of that time.
Ready Player One isn’t just a cultural history lesson however. Clines’ imagination soars in how he envisions his dystopian future, and The OASIS is a world that is both believable and fantastical. He has mixed old with new, and his own ‘modern’ world with that of his futuristic virtual world. The three blend seemlessless and are realised with such conviction that its near impossible not to be drawn in.
Clines’ characters avoid clichés but are clearly delineated, with the protagonist and his companions each having their own personal struggles to deal with.
As the narrator, Wil Wheaton is absolutely stellar. I’ve never been a fan of the actor until now but his faultless reading is well-paced, witty and emotive. His characterisations are as sharp as the author’s.
The retro aspect of Ready Player One should appeal to older audiences, while the youthful characters should appeal to those yet to be born in the 1980s. Clines’ book caters to all ages and tastes as a contemporary science fiction, an adventure, romance, drama, fantasy, and mystery. I can’t recommend it enough.
Ready Player One was released by Random House Audiobooks in April 2012. It run for approximately 15 hours and 40 minute and is available through Audible.com.au.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 10