Crown Publishing Group
The best book published this summer was unquestionably Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. Cline has a serious fetish for the 1980’s, and it shows on every page. The entire novel is an homage to the era. I too have a fetish for the decade, so it was unsurprising that I loved this book.
The plot is crazy. At some point in the future, virtual reality video games become completely life-like. Predictably, everyone under the age of 30 in the entire universe is sucked out of society and dropped into one massive multiplayer online (MMO) game. Imagine an entire galaxy controlled by World of Warcraft nerds. That’s the setting here.
For some reason or another something happens and something is found, or lost, and the main character, Parzival, gets caught up in an epic war that makes the Death Star destruction scene in Star Wars look boring. I forget exactly why it all happens, because the actual occurrences and characters of this book are utterly irrelevant. What Cline is really selling with Ready Player One is much more interesting and absorbing than one character’s ambitions and desires. In the same way that people hardly ever feel obligated to follow the main storyline of most MMO video games, readers of Cline’s novel will inevitably regard much of the plot as optional and obsolete.
What Cline is selling is a virtual universe for readers to imagine and play within. He has invented the first work of a new literary genre: the MMO novel. World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Fable are successful games because they offer so many options that players are subconsciously fooled into believing they have infinite freedom within the respective universes in which they play. This false sense of freedom empowers players with a more life-like gaming experience than other gaming genres, which are more linear, and scripted, in their play.
Ready Player One, somehow, accomplishes this sensation of freedom. It is a necessary and assumed feature of the novel as story-telling medium that the narrative between the covers of a book is static. That is, every time you open the book to page 108, the same words will appear, in the same order, and therefore the same events and plot lines play out over and over. No matter how many times you read The Old Man and the Sea, the old guy always catches the fish and then loses it to sharks. That can never change.
Ready Player One, as a novel, never changes. But the experience of reading it offers more sensation than that. Cline, by opening a virtual world to readers, gives us infinite options of choice and decision outside of the book’s covers. In other words, freedom. What we imagine could happen in this beautiful universe while reading Ready Player One is the appeal of the novel, not what actually does happen.
A few examples of this virtual reality: an entire solar system (literally) based on the works of Joss Whedon, the ability to pilot any space ship from Star Wars, a planet that holds every Dungeons & Dragons scenario, and an anti-gravity dance club DJ’d by a wizard.
You don’t read this book. You play it.