Finishing _Ready Player One_

With this post I have finished my part of our reading of Cline’s Ready Player One, and will share thoughts.  Coming up below are a plot summary, further notes on the novel’s world, and lit prof musings.

I have another post on this book in the works, too.

From here on out is spoiler territory, so don’t read further if you haven’t finished the book.

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I: plot summary

Both gunters and villains continue their quest for Halliday’s easter egg.  Wade undertakes a risky offline move to hack IOI.  Wade and friends meet in person, learning more about their identities, as Ogden helps them out.  A spectacular battle ensues.  Wade wins the egg, and kisses Art3mis.

There is a lot of 1980s nostalgia.

II: world notes

We learn more about dire offline social conditions, especially through Wade’s arrest gambit.  Urban decay continues as a theme, and even worsens:

A thick film of neglect still covered everything in sight.  The streets, the buildings, the people.  Even the snow seemed dirty.  It drifted down in gray flakes like ash after a volcanic eruption.

The number of homeless people seemed to have increased drastically. Tents and cardboard shelters lined the streets… (4826)

Companies can “indent” people for non-payment of debt, a condition somewhere between indentured servitude, slavery, and company town life (4721, 4866).  Indents are tagged by tracking devices (4884) and live in a state of Orwellian surveillance and propaganda.   They sleep in “coffins”, which is both a grimly Gothic note and a nod to William Gibson’s classic 1984 novel Neuromancer (4914).  There are many nods to another 1980s classic, Brazil.

Ironically for the novel’s premise, indent life is gamified.

If I obtained a sufficient number of “perk points” by getting high productivity and customer approval ratings, I could “spend” some of them to purchase the privilege of decorating my cube, perhaps with a potted plan or an inspirational poster of a kitten hanging from a clothesline.(4940)

Wade’s retreat from the world into OASIS is not an isolated thing.  We learn from the Japanese gunters that that country has labeled “young people who had withdrawn from society and chosen to live in total isolation” as hikimori (4281).

Technology: by the end of the book we’ve seen several different hardware setups for engaging with OASIS, from Ogden’s high-end immersive pod (“like being inside a giant hamster ball”, 5743) to street people’s haptic gloves.  There’s a “bifocal visor” which, like Google Glass, lets users switch between the virtual and physical worlds (5263).  We’re also introduced to the neat idea of “dichotomy wear”, clothes with some kind of digital linkage built in (5231).

Guns can be tied to a user’s DNA, and have a cooling off delay built in (5251).  Not only are there self-driving cars, but automatic jets (5618).

I’m struck by how geeky is the 1980s obsession.  Not just geeky as in “obsessive”, but also in terms of geek culture, exclusive of all else. There is nothing in this book about sports, for example, which might represent the classic nerd versus jock dynamic.  There’s nothing about politics, culture, or science.  Instead Ready Player One is just about cultural products of the 1980s – and only a subset.  The films are sf, not romantic comedies or westerns.  The same goes for the lit.

III: lit prof musings

I’m left with some questions.

What is to be done about OASIS?  We’ve seen the big red button, and learned how important it is to get offline.  Yet winning online means winning offline.  We have little sense that Wade’s crew will improve the rotten dystopia.  Is the lesson to remain in the virtual world?

What do we make of the invocation of First Corinthians 13:13, specifically the phrase “charity, hope, faith” (5355. 5368)?  The game’s creator isn’t a believer, but the passage is still there, even though it’s a link to Schoolhouse Rock and a push for the heroes to attain unity.

Well, the next line does set up the book’s ending: “But the greatest of these is love.”  That’s for romantic, not divine, love, but still.

Why The Tempest (6164)?  It fits the usual reading of that play as Shakespeare’s final production, much as the easter egg hunt is Halliday’s.  It also connects Prospero’s threat to his magic books with Halliday’s offer of the world-destroying button.

Three is indeed a magic number (5375).  Three protagonists unlock the final puzzle, and the enemy fights that combination.  But two is the final image; it’s only three if we assume Ogden is a kind of supervisory figure.

Should we trust Ogden?  If he’s “the Great and Powerful Og” (5481) doesn’t this mean he’s a fraud?

Why the game Adventure, hit on so many times?  Is it just the historical resonance?

The book concludes by urging people offline.  “Don’t make the same mistake I did,” advises Halliday’s valedictory recording.  “Don’t hide in here forever.” (6423)  Last line: “…for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the OASIS.” (6553)

Our protagonists turn out to be diverse in terms of sexual orientation and ethnicity, although it’s a classic hero (white, male, cis, American) who wins the day.

IV: over to you

More musings coming up.

But now that we’ve finished it (and if you haven’t, please come back when you do), what did you think of the novel?

(spoiler photo by gust)

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11 Responses to Finishing _Ready Player One_

  1. tonzijlstra says:

    I loved the book as a whole (growing up in the 80s myself, from Atari console, to TRS-80, Commodore 64). Although I was less of a gamer, more fiddling with code. I thought the role of Og was somewhat disappointing. His appearance (first as a glitch in the basement encrypted chatroom, then revealing himself) was way too much deus ex machine to my taste. A bit contrived as a plot device to make sure it was at least a bit more believable that the three remaining gunters in North America could take on the big corporate driven enemy with success. If Og was so all powerful why hadn’t he played a role before in shaping Oasis more towards the desired values, why hadn’t Halliday handed part of the reigns to Og at least? There was no real falling out between them, other than one feeling uncomfortable with the other over a woman they were both in love with.

    What I find interesting in this exampe of near future SF is that nothing has changed at all really. Everything in the book is already there at the time it was written (2011). Second Life as Oasis, CAVEs, Google glass and haptic gloves etc. (maybe the haptic devices are more developed as an exception) It feels like the main future development was the coming undone of political / national structures, and the decline into dystopian urbanization. Even if that was also the least developed part of the story, and more a backdrop you glimpse every now and then (we spend as much time in-world as the protagonist, which is we don’t really get to see the world itself) Other than that during the reading we are in the eighties reliving the games, music and atmosphere of it. The bit the geeks/nerds experienced of the 80s that is.

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    • I think Og was playing a light, benign version of that hoary sf trope, the powerful and wise old man who must be dealt with so the young folks can advance. There isn’t an Oedipal struggle, at least not directly, with Og. He’s more like a fairy godmother.

      Great point about the persistent future. Are we still in the cyberpunk stage?

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  2. Gerry Bayne says:

    What always struck me was that the brilliant genius James Halliday didn’t think to put a clause in the contest that corporations were not allowed to enter. Seems like a massive oversight to me.

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    • You know, that’s a really powerful problem. Do you think it’s a criticism of Halliday’s idealism?

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      • Gerry Bayne says:

        Good question. Just seems like a plot hole to me. I wonder if it was even considered. And if so, it must’ve been thrown away as a problem because the entire book rests on him struggling against a multinational corporation in the game.

        I just can’t imagine a character like Halliday allowing something like that to happen. Seems very out of character.

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      • Good hearted inventor versus evil corp is a pretty primal narrative.

        Do you think it still holds up in 2016?

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  3. I really enjoyed the book…but perhaps too much, and by that I mean that the potential for exploring the deeper messages often seemed overshadowed by an effort to make the book extremely readable and widely approachable. I was dying to roll down futuristic and philosophical techno-rabbit holes, but it was always interrupted by what seemed to be an intentional appeal to the masses. Then again, I’m part of that mass who bought the book on Amazon and read it cover to cover 😉

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    • Heh. I, too, read it quickly the first time.
      It does seem to pull its real-world punches.

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      • bboessen says:

        I have to agree with both of you: mass-appeal and punch-pulling are definite issues here. Again, I see it in terms of Cline wanting a more dramatic backdrop for his hero story; I don’t get the sense that the dystopian elements are important as much as they are stakes-raising.

        But I’m also with you about enjoying the book, too. It’s a fun indulgence for those of us who have to actively restrain our techno-utopian urges. 😉

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  4. tonzijlstra says:

    @Gerry re the ‘no evil corporations’ clause. That crossed my mind during reading as well, but I thought it would not have worked. How would such a clause have been enforced? The numbered corporate avatars would just have posed as ‘regular’ gunters. But most of all: OASIS itself is presented to us as a corporation that isn’t un-evil either. So Halliday seemed to be looking for a values driven person to take over, with Og in the background as watchdog to guard that from the sidelines. At the same time your point also factors into why I think Og’s role in the book is a bit odd / weak, and a bit of a crutch.

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  5. bboessen says:

    One comparison I found blaring but I don’t think anyone has yet mentioned is to Willy Wonka and Charlie. In both stories, we have a rich, eccentric recluse who uses the tools of his trade to root out a good-hearted young man who will be given the keys to the kingdom based on his successful navigation of a bizarre gauntlet. There’s even a corporation-as-evil angle in both, though in WW it turns out to be a ruse (At one point I imagined IOI would turn out to be similarly conjured by Halliday’s limitless resources to a similar end; that is, until they tried to kill Wade).

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