Tag Archives: Ernest Cline

Book Review Saturday – ‘Ready Player One’

Ernest Cline’s 2011 début novel, ‘Ready Player One’ is, at its heart, a love letter to an affectionately remembered past, and a thinly-veiled declaration that no era since the one in which he spent his childhood has ever been quite so good. Perhaps he’s right.

Image: amazon.com

Image: amazon.com

In some ways, I find it amusing that the 80s – for that is the decade in question – are making a big comeback, in terms of music and fashion in particular, but in another way it’s not surprising at all. People my age (and up to about five years older) would have been young during the 1980s, and so as we’ve begun to reach the age of ‘maturity’ – settling down, getting a bit of cash behind us, that sort of thing – we’ve started to want to relive the cartoons and movies and music that we grew up with.

But what about the 1980s was so amazing?

Well, there's this. Image: brisayhowto.blogspot.com

Well, there’s this.
Image: brisayhowto.blogspot.com

It’s no wonder that so many survivors of the 80s grew up to be nerds – it was the era when computers, outside of government facilities and academic institutions, really began to take off. Space travel cropped up in kids’ movies – Explorers and Flight of the Navigator, anyone? – and movies like D.A.R.Y.L., about a cyborg child, were memorable for their treatment of technology as something which had limitless possibility, but which might also exact a massive price. Video games were everywhere. I remember, from my own tastes in movies and cartoons, that the idea of exploration and potential was ubiquitous, computers – if you knew how to master them – could do anything, and space was only a step away.

This feeling – based more in nostalgia than reality, I suspect – suffuses ‘Ready Player One.’ The book is set in the year 2044, when the energy crisis and collapsing economies have forced much of the world to live in poverty and darkness. One thing they do have, though, is OASIS, a giant online MMPORPG (Massively MultiPlayer Online Role-Playing Game), which acts as a sort of drug. It keeps people sane, and takes them out of the minutiae of their own hardscrabble existence. Everything is done in OASIS – people, like our protagonist Wade, even attend school there in a sort of Second Life scenario, where you can be who you want – and absolutely everyone is connected to the network. James Halliday, the man who invented OASIS, died about five years before the book begins, and it’s rumoured that, somewhere in the workings of OASIS, there is hidden a huge prize – his fortune, and control of his company.

The only problem is that there are loads of clues to follow if you want to find the prize, and – so far – nobody’s been able to get beyond even the first of them.

Halliday was obsessed with the era of his youth – the 1980s – and because of this, millions of people have taken on a level of familiarity with that decade that most of those who lived through it couldn’t have matched. This is because the clues to Halliday’s ‘easter egg’, or the prize within his game, all relate to 1980s movies, books, video games, pop culture references, and so on (and, if you have any familiarity with the 1980s, these little gems and in-jokes pepper the book in such a glee-making way that I can’t even find a word for it.) Despite the fact that, over the years, most people have given up on the search for clues, one day our hero Wade unlocks the first one – and his name springs to the top of a global leaderboard, just like it would in an arcade game.

And that brings out all the people who’ve been quietly beavering away in the years since Halliday’s death, trying to work out the clues. And then, the race begins.

Image: onemetal.com

Image: onemetal.com

It’s a very visual book, and as I read I was imagining it like a movie or a video game. You can’t really help it – everything about the story and the 80s references naturally draws your mind back to the movies and games of that era, and the book lends itself to being seen, rather than being read. It doesn’t surprise me that a movie is in production.

There’s so much to like about this book. It’s huge fun, for a start. It also deals with ideas like internet freedom and free speech, as well as the possibility of reforging your identity in a world where everyone and everything is online, 24/7. It’s a scary, but shockingly plausible, vision of the future. It tackles questions of humanity, and how we’ll keep a hold on it as we drift further and further away from a flesh-and-blood existence. It deals with the nature of greed and whether idealism and equality wouldn’t be a better way of doing things. I loved it.

Having said that, it might not appeal to people who are either too young or not quite young enough to remember the 1980s, or who weren’t into the pop culture of that era. I was, just a little, but a little is enough. There’s loads in this book which I didn’t understand – but I didn’t need to. You get swept away by the action and even if you don’t get the in-jokes when Wade and his friends are doing digital battle, you care enough about them to make the battle important. It does escalate up into a rather ridiculous-seeming conclusion, but even then I found myself cheering the heroes on, while just enjoying the story.

In short, I’d say this one is worth a try. If you’re anything like me, you’ll love it. Hopefully.

Recommended Books: Vol. 2


It’s been a morning of happy surprises for me so far. First among these is: we woke up with electricity this morning, which was a cause for delight. Last night – luckily just as Masterchef, my current obsession, was finishing – our power went. Cue house alarms going off all over the place, gentle candlelight appearing in windows all over our street, and stars popping out of the sky. It was, in some ways, rather lovely.

But all I could think of was: ‘How am I going to blog tomorrow morning sans electricity?’

As ever, my panic was unfounded. Power is restored, all is good with the world.

The other happy surprise is this: I have been published again! My short story ‘Skin’ appears in Issue 14 of the wonderful ‘wordlegs’ magazine – here’s a link – and I am very proud. It’s a proper short story this time, not a flash fiction piece. If you manage to have a read, please let me know what you think!

Hopefully, reading my story won't leave you looking like this... Image: goodmojopetcare.com

Hopefully, reading my story won’t leave you looking like this…
Image: goodmojopetcare.com

Alors! On with the blog.

I’m sure anyone who likes to read will have heard of Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke. These men were legends in the field of SF writing, and deservedly so. I want to recommend (pretty much) everything either of them wrote – I have a few reservations when it comes to Clarke – but today, I’d like to mention two books in particular. Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, and Childhood’s End by Clarke. Man in the High Castle is an amazing re-think of European and world history, assuming the Allies lost WW2, and Childhood’s End takes us through an invasion of Earth by an apparently benign alien force – but are they as good as they seem? Both books are amazing.

I also love Ernest Cline‘s book Ready Player One. Perhaps this is because I was a young person during the 1980s, because the book makes mention of the culture, movies, video games and fashions of that time, and couples them with a mind-blowingly amazing view of the future. It’s… just… I can’t… Look. Just read it, okay? Good.

I can’t believe I wrote Vol. 1 of this post without mentioning Sir Terry Pratchett. There is no author who has had a larger effect on my reading and writing life. I’ve been collecting his books since the age of 7, and even though I didn’t understand them at that age, I knew there was something worth sticking with. I was right. My favourite Discworld novel (and there are loads) is Lords and Ladies, though I have a feeling this might be because I no longer own my copy of this book. I ‘lent’ it to my doctoral supervisor, many years ago, telling him he’d enjoy it because of the echoes of a medieval story named Sir Orfeo which appear within it. Did I ever see it again? Did I what. The person concerned has since retired, and the last time I asked him for it back, he said something like: ‘No. I don’t want to give it back. Won’t you make me a present of it instead?’ He then proceeded to give me an eyelash-fluttering look, which melted me completely. So, anyway, he now has it. I hope he’s enjoying it.

I also recommend Sir Terry’s series of books for younger readers, known as the Tiffany Aching books, after their heroine. A-Ma-Zing.

Dave Eggers is an author some people have a problem with. I’m not sure why, because I think he’s fantastic. I read his A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius many years ago, purely because the title made me laugh, but his You Shall Know Our Velocity! is also a brilliant piece of work. Also, read Zeitoun, a study of America in the days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

Everyone in the world needs to read A Little History of the World, by Sir Ernst Gombrich. I’ve lost count of the amount of people to whom I’ve recommended this book (in real life, I mean), and everyone, so far, has loved it and gone on to recommend it to others. Beautiful, poignant, educational (without even trying), and utterly wonderfully written, I cherish this book.

I have many collections of fairy tales. Unsurprising, you might think. But the most beautiful, and my favourite, is Perrault’s Complete Fairy Tales, translated by Christopher Betts, illustrated by Gustave Doré, published by Oxford University Press. Sublime.

I also recommend The Virago Book of Fairy Tales, edited by the marvellous Angela Carter. Angela Carter is a bit like Jeanette Winterson, for me – I can’t pick one book to recommend over the others, because I love them all so very much. My top five would be, in no particular order: The Passion of New Eve, The Magic Toyshop, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, Shadowdance, and the majestic collection of short stories known as The Bloody Chamber.

Also, everyone needs to read William Goldman‘s utterly bonkers and brilliant The Princess Bride. Particularly if you’ve seen the movie, and you didn’t know it was a book first. Get to it!

I love Douglas Coupland‘s books. Most people have heard of his big hitters, like Generation X, but my favourite of his books is actually The Gum Thief (JPod would be a close second) for its minute, and moving, dissection of modern life.

Catherine Fisher is one of the finest children’s authors ever. Full stop. I recommend anything and everything, but especially Corbenic and Darkhenge. When I grow up, I want to be Catherine Fisher.

If I can’t be Catherine Fisher when I grow up, then I’ll be Frances Hardinge instead. Is there a better wordsmith writing for children today? If there is, I haven’t read them yet. I’m currently reading Hardinge’s most recent book, A Face Like Glass, and there are times I literally have to put it down and go ‘Wow. Just… wow.’

Why not try Manda Scott‘s series of books about Boudicca, and Celtic-era Britain? Go on. They’re brilliant.

As y’all know, I used to be an academic. I wrote a thesis. It had a 40 page bibliography. I’ll let you do the maths with regard to how many books can fit into a bibliography that long, but let’s just say, it was loads. Two of the most interesting books on that list are Caroline Walker Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women and E. Roger Ekirch‘s At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime. If  you like stories about crazy medieval nuns and things that go bump in the night, you can’t go wrong with these.

And, after all that heavy stuff, try Jim Butcher‘s extremely fun series about a Chicago wizard, The Dresden Files.

Phew. I need a lie-down after all that. Have a lovely Thursday. Get reading!