Monday, November 28, 2011
For the book tour I packed a whopping fourteen audio books, and the one I was most excited about was Ready Player One, which I mentioned here on Epbot a few months ago.
Now, I should point out that I always prefer reading a book to listening to it - the exception being when I've already read the book and/or it's being performed by several readers as opposed to a single narrator. So bear that in mind.
I won't keep you in suspense: I liked it.
Just not nearly as much as I expected to.
Here's the thing: Every review I've read, and almost everyone who recommended the book to me, made this book sound like the Ultimate 80's Geek-Fest. Like every other line would be a Ghostbusters quote, or a Star Wars homage, or something to do with Princess Bride and Michael Jackson and Rubik's cubes and every other bit of 80's nostalgia I could think of.
In fact, this is a story grounded just as much in the 1970's, and much of it extremely obscure - like 1970's-era Japanese Manga shows, and text-based computer RPGs, and the first generation of arcade games, like Joust. I think if I'd been born about ten years earlier, I might have gotten a lot more of it. As it was? The vast majority sailed cleanly over my head, and I felt less and less like a real geek with every passing paragraph. It got to where I felt a pathetic pang of victory every time I did recognize something. ("Oh! Pac-Man! I know that! And Monty Python! Yes!")
To be fair, there *are* some casual mentions of X-wings and Deloreans and even a Serenity-class ship, but for the most part, and for most of the important plot-points, Cline could have been making up a lot of random dates, factoids, names, and song lyrics, and I'd never have known the difference. (Although now I feel the need to see War Games.)
This isn't Cline's fault, of course. It just means the target audience is older and harder-core geeks than I am. (I'm 33, btw.)
Ok, so with all that said, let's talk about the actual story.
It starts out slow - painfully slow, in fact, if you're listening to it. After two hours John and I gave up, half-asleep and shaking our heads in bewilderment. It was like having someone read the encyclopedia to you for two solid hours: only it's an encyclopedia written in the future about the past which is still in your future. (Got all that?)
When we ran out of other books to listen to, though, we decided to dive back in and give it another try. This time, after another 30 minutes or so, the story picked up, and from there on it was a good ride.
Again, I should point out that I'm sure I would have liked Ready Player One much more if I'd been reading the book instead of listening to it. Don't get me wrong: Wil Wheaton does a fine job narrating - it's just too slow for me that way. Fact is, I've often listened to books I've read before and loved only to find I don't like them nearly as much anymore, all because they progress so slowly in audio.
If you haven't heard anything about the actual story, Ready Player One is a little like the Matrix, minus most of the action and with a scavenger hunt thrown in. Cline spends a lot of time telling us how much the future sucks (about two hours, in fact) and how everyone spends every waking moment plugged in to a virtual reality called the Oasis, which is basically an MMO ala World of Warcraft on steroids. You can get a more detailed synopsis on any book site, but that's the general gist.
There are several laugh-out-loud moments - the best being an all-too-brief stint in the technical support department - but it's not a screwball comedy. This is a respectable adventure story with real life-and-death consequences, nasty bad guys, a healthy dash of suspense, and even a love interest.
So...should you read it?
Yes, if you're a WoW fan, have ever played Adventure, and remember owning a TRS-80.
Also yes if you don't care about getting all the references and just want a good story - but realizing you'll be missing the nostalgia kick the story is built around if you're under 38.
No, if you're expecting lots of "It's a trap!" and "As you wish!" and Jem and the Holograms concerts. (Which, for the record, would have been AWESOME. [wistful sigh])
I hope this review helps those of you who've been on the fence about reading Ready Player One - and please, feel free to share your thoughts/disagreements/polite accusations in the comments!
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