To start with do not read this blog entry if you haven't read the book Ready Player One and would like to do so (or at least see the Spielberg movie when it comes out.) There will be SPOILERS and I will not apologize for that in any way shape or form. Ye hath been warned.
Now, my thoughts on Ready Player One or Chekov's Many Guns.
For those unaware of the novel Ready Player One, it is a near future sci-fi young adult novel that features a wildly popular immersive virtual reality that humanity had flocked to due to the Earth becoming the final theorized product of an Inconvenient Truth. It also features Willa Wonka(Halliday), the virtual worlds programmer, Dumbeldore (Og) his best friend, the evil Pan-Galactic Empire(IOI) that wants to take over the virtual world and charge people a monthly fee for using it, and the trailer trash lets player who is out to thwart them(Wade/Parzivel). Oh, and an 80's trivia peppered contest that is meant to be the interesting part of the story.
I'll start with the impetus to this writing, which is my somewhat recent acquisition of the Novel in question through my wife's subscription to the monthly 'Loot Crate' and the more recent event of my having finished reading the damned thing. It's not that the story if a difficult read, far from it, the writing is so simple that the only difficult thing a reader might find is remembering that the story is supposed to be science fiction, even though the most science fictional part of it is the now apparently required Dystopian setting that all young adult novels must have. No, it's just that the writing is so clunky and unimaginative that the harshness of the Dystopia loses its grim veneer. Which wouldn't be so bad except the purported glory of the online Utopia, aptly dubbed the OASIS, is also lost in kind, leading it to seem like a poorly programmed second-life clone than both paradise and prison of humanity.
Understand what I'm trying to say when I tell you that I've read fan-fiction that is more colorfully eloquent and richly verbose than this dreck. And I don't mean high class, artsy fan fiction, I mean 50 Shades of Grey level fan fiction. I mean grimdark, NSFW, sexy times had by all fan fiction. This is a New York Times Best Seller and it is positively lifeless compared to what a twelve year old with a computer and a lonely afternoon can tap out in a matter of minutes. Now this isn't to say that it's all bad, there are moments in Ready Player One that do shine. It's just obvious that those moments were the only ones that the author actually cared about and everything else was just window dressing to get to that point.
There's no point in the story more damning than the completely out of the blue aside where the main character (Wade/Parzivel) discovers a side quest in the OASIS that he does with Daito and Shoto (the stories token minority characters. More on that later.) Instead of detailing the main character working with Daito and Shoto, getting to know them, and developing a camaraderie, we are simply told that they completed the quest and became friends after Wade lets them have the quest reward. A reward, I might add, is the first of many Chekov's gun's that are so hamfistedly shoe horned into the story that you know IMMEDIATELY that the reward will be back in Wade's possession before the end of the book. Another example of this is the long aside about another artifact that is essentially a 'planet wide nuke' for inside the OASIS. No explanation is ever given on how or why such a thing could be coded into existence or by whom, merely it is capabilities are precisely detailed and it's mentioned that someone buys it for a lot of money. Again, extremely obvious that it will be coming into play later, but there is almost no reason for it to be mentioned at that point in the story aside from it not being any kind of surprise when it shows up.
And this book HATES surprises! The female love interest (Art3miss) says over and over that Wade doesn't know the real her, that she might not like her if they met in real life outside of the OASIS, going so far as to have a dramatic break up at an online party. Her deep dark secret? She has a birth mark on her face. Aside from that she looks exactly the same as her in game avatar. The Birthmark doesn't even do anything to detract from her apparent beauty, merely serving as the one flaw in an otherwise 'Woman-Are-Wonderful' perfect package that manages to be both smarter and mildly more annoying than the main character.
The other big 'shocker' moment is when Wade meets his best friend Aech in real life for the first time. Apparently despite Wade saying himself over and over that people in the Oasis can choose to look however they want, he never saw is 'assumed male' best friend would turn out to be a fat black lesbian woman. What's worse is that this moment of revelation is treated as a betrayal of trust that is almost immediately swept aside in the self same paragraph! There's no narrative reason for Aech to hit the Social Justice Warrior lottery, and it comes off as if this was a revelation that was come up with at the last minute to try and somehow make the story edgy, even though it has zero impact on any of the characters or how the story concludes. If Wade had maintained his sense of betrayal, yes he would've been less likable, but he also would've had depth and flaws outside of his computer geek stereotype. (not saying that he doesn't have flaws. Letting several dozen people die in a trailer park fire because you don't want to soil the integrity of a videogame contest doesn't kind of ruins any claim Wade might have to being a morally perfect character.) More than anything it would've been a fantastic twist if it had turned out that Aech was indeed black and female, and was as obsessed with him as he was with Art3miss. There would be a narrative reason for the big reveal than. Cynically, I think that this decision was made merely to attract the kind of investors that like to fast track YA novels for film production.
I suppose the thing that I found hardest to swallow about the novel comes in the form of its Deus Ex Machina. The Great and Powerful Og is the best friend of the man that programmed the Oasis and started the ridiculous contest that would decide who would inherit his billions and control of the (virtual) world. Og is represented as being omnipowerful, a super user that can teleport anywhere in the world including private chat rooms, be invisible, and wipe out other players avatars with a flick of the wrist. He's also fabulously wealthy! So wealthy in fact that he can afford to gather together our heroes at his mansion towards the end of the book thanks to a fleet of private jets and just so happens to have cutting edge immersion rigs primed and ready to go for each of them. It's less that I find the idea of anyone wanting to help the main characters so appalling and more the timing of when and how he goes about it. The conceit is that his best friend charged him to watch over the course of the contest and make sure the spirit of the contest is preserved. So while he does wipe out a large contingent of the IOI soldiers when they crash his party, he otherwise allows them to continue existing in game despite the fact that they are cheating at the contest and that he has full knowledge that they attempted to kill one of its participants in real life, murdering dozens of innocent bystanders in the process! He waits until the very end to wave his magic money wand to give our heroes a fighting chance, when he should have BANNED IOI from participating in the contest from the outset of the story, if not after he had evidence of their murderous intent. It's a stupid excuse for a 'happy ending' set up that drains all the tension from the story. Not but a few paragraphs before this revelation Wade is purchasing a Smart Gun and body armor because he's a fugitive from IOI's indentured slavery program. The gun is never even ever used! (Hilarious breaking the rule of Chekov's Gun in the most irritating and literal of fashions.) If there was a real world threat in any of this, the Dystopian setting might have more meaning, but as it stands it only serves as a cheap backdrop for an over-glorified Family Guy episode.
Now I don't want you to think that you shouldn't read this book if you haven;t read it for yourself. By all means, read it, come up with your own thoughts and ideas. But when I tried to find a critique of the book all I kept coming across were the same entry's praising how this is the best science fiction story in decades and how big-hearted it is, and how amazingly fantastic it is to read. You know, the usual '5 star' paid for advertisements that are meant more to plant asses in seats when the movie comes out than to actually offer any real idea of what one might expect if they pick up the paperback at the five and dime.
Again the story has its good points, but its flaws are glaring and they deserve to be pointed out, not glossed over with warm feelings of undeserved pseudo-nostalgia. If you can get a hold on a copy without actually paying for it as I did, by all means give it a read. But don't waste your money on what is, at best, an afternoons distraction.