Into the middle of _Ready Player One_

Our online reading of near-future science fiction continues, as we work through Ernst Cline’s Ready Player One (previous posts).  With the post I’m 60% of the way along my reread.

As before I’ll offer a short plot sketch, some observations about the world, and lit prof notes.

Quick plot update: the quest for Halliday’s Easter egg continues. The narrator solves the first puzzle ever won in the game. More “gunters” then succeed in cracking parts of the mystery.  Our hero meets and angers the villainous Sixers online, who nearly kill him in real life.  Wade falls hard for Art5mis, who initially responds, then spurns him.  There are epic feats of 1980s nerdery.

Wade leaves school and his childhood home for Columbus, Ohio, there to seek the grail at all costs.

The world of Ready Player One gets fleshed out in even deeper dystopian detail.  As Wade leaves Oklahoma City we learn that “lawless badlands now exist… outside of the safety of large cities”.  Wade travels between them in an armored bus across “the deteriorating interstate highway system.” (Kindle location 2937)  “[T]he view was perpetually bleak, and each decaying, overcrowded city we rolled through looked just like the last.” (2960) Even in those cities he works with elaborate security measures, including an uber-armored door on his new apartment (3387).

The diseases we heard about in earlier chapters recur here with a sound of plague:

Parzival: You got parents?

Art5mis: They died.  The flu.  So i was raised by my grandparents.  You got parentage?

Parzival: No.  Mine are dead too.

Art5mis: It kinds sucks, doesn’t it?  Not having your parents around.

Parzival: Yeah.  But a lot of people are worse off than me. (3073)

It’s “the flu”, not “a flu” – i.e., a known and formidable specter.  Note, too, Parzival’s closing observation.  Things are worse for a lot of people.

Politics is useless.  “It didn’t matter who was in charge.  Those people were rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and everyone knew it.”  Worse, there’s an echo of Idiocracy (2006): “the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.” (3560)  Yes, laugh it up, 2016.

We learn that Ogden Morrow, Halliday’s other half, like Wozniak to Jobs, had criticized OASIS as a pointless escape from reality (2147).  Unsurprising for a guy who echoes Einstein and Santa Claus, the book seems to agree with him, observing that people no longer “physically travel… for business and pleasure” (2954) (see also 3531).

Joust game, photo by Emma Story

A key gaming detail in this section.

On technological politics: user behavior in OASIS is apparently uncontrolled (“There are no laws in the OASIS”, 2751).  In contrast, the villains want to add “[a]vatar content filters [and] stricter construction guidelines.  We’re going to make OASIS a better place” (2492).  This opposition feels very 1990s, and far removed from 2016’s debates about abuse online.  Put it this way: do many people see Twitter today as too like OASIS?

We see further hardware mechanisms for interacting with the online world, including a full-body haptic system and treadmill with olfactory sensors (3404), plus sexbots (3433).

Social media is much like our own, with a few extensions.  People livestream their existence and have their own equivalent of YouTube channels (3566).

There are some positive notes sounded in this dark future. Ogden Morrow and his wife build educational software, which seems to have worked (2153).  Columbus is lit by solar power, which just seems like a good thing (2967).  Cory Doctorow and Will Wheaton help shape OASIS policy (3560).  And automated taxis exist (2973).

Nice detail: Cline takes care to position the 80s in the stream of time.  Occasionally we read about the preceding or succeeding decades in contrast:

Two late-70s Ford sedans were parked in the driveway, one of them up on cinder blocks…garish furniture that looked like it had been scavenged from several disco-era yard sales…

[E]very house on this street had been demolished in the late ’90s to make room for a strip mall. (1848-54)

That helps make the period less of a bubble, and remind us of history as a process in motion.

Another nice detail is the shout-out to phone phreaks (3146) (my review of a good book on the subject).

Lit prof notes We meet a villain, whose last name, Sorrento, suggests southern Italian villainy in classic cliche style (2357).

Wade loses his family and childhood home, but these events don’t seem to have had much of an impact on him.  Depressed lad.  He does, in contrast, use his father’s identity to establish his new one (2948).

Both Wade and Art5mis are orphans, which is a classic setup for a children’s or young adult story.  Both have to make their way through a challenging world.

I’m not sure what to make of the new name, Lynch.  It‘s an anglicized version of several Irish gaelic names.  Are we supposed to hear echoes of the American crime instead?

I’ve been thinking about nostalgia in this book, but will save that for a separate post.

How’s your reading going so far?

 

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8 Responses to Into the middle of _Ready Player One_

  1. VanessaVaile says:

    Or David Lynch. Or both, neither. I’m sidelined on this one, wait listed for loan

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  2. tonzijlstra says:

    Finished reading it earlier this week. Fun reliving 1980’s nerdom. I have one disappointment from the book, but won’t tell you now before you’re further along in it.

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  3. bboessen says:

    Also finished [listening] to it this morning, so I’ll try to stick to as far as it seems you’ve gotten, Bryan, in my impressions.

    “We meet a villain, whose last name, Sorrento, suggests southern Italian villainy in classic cliche style”: there’s more and more of this kind of cut-and-paste storytelling in the middle section of RPO, from the way the heroes band together to ward off the evil, faceless horde, to the ways every piece of the quest chain tells us a little more about Halliday’s obsessions.

    I still do find it a fun read, though as a colleague joked, “there’s more 80s nostalgia than story!” Like much modern storytelling, the originality and creativity comes in the way the various quotations, citations, and references are woven together into something new.

    As a piece of near-future fiction, there’s very little world-building in RPO, even less than in TWK. Because so much of the plot takes place inside OASIS, much of that world simply happens without the protagonists, in a sense,while they’re logged in. This does become a key element of the story, but probably not in the way many readers would hope it would. I would have liked to see more.

    One side note: hilariously, Wil Wheaton is the narrator of the audiobook Iistened to. Not only did it take me a while to get the host of the TableTop web series – http://geekandsundry.com/shows/tabletop/ – out of my head, but I laughed out loud when he delivered the line about “Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton.” lol, indeed. 🙂

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    • That’s a nice linkage.

      I’ll keep teasing out the non-OASIS world-building, because it’s a vital counterpoint.

      What do you think of the theme of VR as escape, now that you’ve finished it?

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      • bboessen says:

        Cline wants to close that loop in a way, bringing us narratively to a point in the end where the characters will presumably go out and do good with their prize(s). But the picture he intermittently paints of the world is so bleak, I don’t find myself confident as a reader that this do-gooding will amount to much.

        So for me, VR-as-escape is hard to reconcile narratively even with the personal goals of the protagonists, much less with the apparent reality of the world they inhabit. But I’m interested in other’s thoughts on this.

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