50 pages in, and I’m already in love. This may sound a little premature. It is. I have a terrible habit of basing relationships on a shared ability to geek out over stuff like Discworld and the filmography of Rutger Hauer. Those relationships, however, tend to stay shallow and die out fast. I’m really hoping that won’t happen here.
I can’t help but admire what Ernest Cline’s doing here. As far as cultural reference-dropping in books goes, it’s a hard thing to do well. The only other writer I can think of who does it as much as Cline is Brian K. Vaughn. In Vaughn’s case, those references get old fast, because they don’t usually have anything to do with the main story, and really distract from the main action. You like “Miller’s Crossing,” Brian, I get it. You’re cool. Now quit. But in the case of “Ready Player One,” Cline’s managed to make those references something that actually propels the plot forward, and informs us about the inner lives of the characters. There’s a whole two-page argument about “Ladyhawke” in here (more words than I’ve ever seen dedicated to that movie, even in real-life conversation), and not only is it fun to read, it seems like a believable conversation.
But already I’m recognizing that Cline’s story is far from original. It’s basically “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Brazil” and a dash of “The Westing Game,” all put together in William Gibson’s Cuisinart while Gibson watches “Tron” with John Hughes in the next room. Complicated analogy, but you get the idea. It’s a lot of bits and pieces of stuff that’s been done before put back together in a giant homage that feels different enough to be interesting, but familiar enough that it’s not saying anything new or compelling. That’s either a recipe for solid entertainment or a burnout fart in the wind. Whether “Ready Player One” is one or the other remains to be seen, but it’s off to a good start so far. Don’t disappoint me, Ernest Cline. Let’s see if we can make this relationship last.
I have a friend who holds to the belief that we’re living in the Matrix, and that the Matrix is being run by Chris Hardwick. The more I think about it, the more I think he may have a point, because only in a world run by someone like Hardwick would a book like “Ready Player One” get published to general acclaim, snag a movie deal with Warner Bros., and have an audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton. One day we’re going to wake up to discover that we’re actually living in the OASIS, in the Nerdist quadrant.