Monday, November 28, 2011

Audio Book Review: Ready Player One

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.

It's not.

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's good.

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!


  1. I'm more in the target age group (age 41) and was still disappointed by it. It seemed like someone did a bunch of research on the 1980s and tried to cram as much of it as they could in a story, regardless of how well it fit in.

    The biggest issue I had was that I didn't like the main character. Wade seemed more like he was in a video game and was on a path through the story even if it didn't make much sense. I touched on some of these issues in my review.

  2. I don't have any opinion on that particular audio book, but I will say that I agree with your assessment about audio books in general. Slow, slow, slow! I'm a really fast reader so sometimes the pace of having something read to me is mind-numbingly boring.

    Although, every so often I enjoy a Harry Dresden audio book. But only if read by James Marsters :-)

  3. Thank you for reviewing this! My husband saw this book recommended by Wil Wheaton and we're waiting for it to come through the library system. Glad we didn't just go out and buy it. We're both 26 and not the hardest-core geeks of our era, so I'm guessing we're not going to enjoy the book like Wil did.

  4. I read the book (and enjoyed it) but the first part was painful to wade through. I can only imagine the torture it was to listen to it on tape, um...CD... Audio player whoosie-whatsit, even if it was Will Wheaton.

  5. I'm also 33 and I adored it. I got my gaming start playing text adventures as well as many of the arcade titles mentioned in the book, including Adventure and Joust, and reading the book brought it all back. We're just getting around to listening to the audio version as well, for my 36-year-old S.O. who absorbs better by listening, and he seems to be enjoying it as well.

  6. Hm, I'm 32, and I really loved this audio book. I actually bought it because it was read by Wil Wheaton, and I thought he was fabulous. The beginning was a bit slow, but once it got going, I couldn't stop listening. I actually felt like a dork for getting a lot of it, though -- although I'd never get the Manga stuff, it's just not my thing. But I remember playing a lot of text-based RPGs growing up (it helped my reading!), and a lot of it felt familiar. But I also may have memorized War Games, too :)

    And to Erin: I just started the first Dresden audiobook, and the production values are awful! I can hear Marsters swallowing his spit, breathing and turning pages or something, and it's driving me nuts. I'm not sure I can keep going -- do they get any better?

  7. You haven't seen "War Games?!?" Run, don't walk! And then watch "Project X" too!

  8. I had the opposite experience with "Soon I Will Be Invincible" by Austin Grossman. I bought the book and thought it was ok, but that my husband (the bigger geek) needed to read it and we just happened to be going on a long road trip, so I bought the audio book to FORCE him to hear it(he tends to dismiss my book suggestions) and found that I LOVED the book in audio form. Fun super-hero stuff and it goes from the villan and superhero POVs with two different readers.

    It really depends on who's reading the audio book - anything with Tim Curry and James Marsters, or Neil Gaiman's books will definitely keep my attention, but sometimes the pace that the readers set is soooo painfully slow that it defeats the purpose of the audiobook, which is for me, to keep me awake and engaged on long drives.

  9. I thoroughly loved RP1 and got almost all of the references even though I am only 32.

    I think it just depends on what you were exposed to as a kid.

    I actually enjoyed listening to the audio version more than reading it (I did both) because it forced me to pay attention to every detail. When I read, I read very fast, so I tend to miss things even though I finish in about a quarter the time.

    I was expecting more comedy as well, but the solidity of the story made up for lack of hijinks.

    I really hope this gets made into a film, I can only imagine how neat the "Oasis" would look on the big screen!

  10. If you're looking for a good, nostalgic 80's book, Talking to Girls about Duran Duran is a personal favorite. It references much more of the music and less of the geeky things you pointed out, but it's still very full of the 80's in a very loving, nostalgic way.
    (I might be slightly biased because the writer is my godfather, but he really is a very good writer.)
    Anyway, if you happen to pick that up I hope you enjoy it!

  11. I can't listen to audio books. It seems when narrated my brain can't hold onto the story. I can't focus when there is a droning voice in my ear, I naturally tune it out.

    That said, If it were more like a radio play, with different voice actors playing the rolls, I think I could get into that.

  12. You haven't seen War Games?!!!!
    Its one of my favorite movies from childhood. I heard they are doing a remake and I'm sure it will be awful, see the original.

  13. We're the same age, and I'm not sure how you missed War Games. Maybe it has something to do with my MEGA Geek older brother. Definitely something you should watch.

  14. I *love* Fanboys so I really, really wanted to like this...but I also found the beginning painfully slow and filled with exposition. I got weary of Wade and his constant, "Of course I was an expert on so-and-so, and played fifty times". Actually I'm kind of relieved I'm not the only one who felt that way!

  15. I also prefer reading over hearing the audio-book. Most of the time, I just wind-up (unintentionally) tuning out the narrator and focus on something else.

  16. War Games was ahead of the curve at the time so if you put it in that context then it's cool. Sort of like reminding yourself that Star Trek was in the '60s when mini skirts were first allowed on tv so it makes "sense" that's the StarFleet uniform for the women.

    Me? I've been known to quote whole conversations from War Games but I'm a dork.

    -Barbara Anne

  17. Just read this with my book club and it was interesting to see the range of reactions to it. A big factor seemed to be nostalgia and how many of the references people got when reading it.

    Personally I liked it, but didn't love it. I think it was a bit over-hyped as an 80s fest, and was mostly the author geeking out to all his favorite stuff.

    I tried listening to the audiobook, but Wil Wheaton is just a bit too smarmy for me. Probably fits the feel of Wade and his attitude, but I didn't enjoy it.

    Agreed that the beginning is too negative and too long. But then the story gets fun. Nothing groundbreaking to it, but entertaining for sure.

  18. What? You haven't seen War Games? Next thing I know you're going to say you haven't seen Sneakers or The Cat From Outer Space!

    I'm 31, probably also a little young for the target audience, and I caught a lot of the references. I suppose this has to do with one's geeky frame of reference - some people are more exposed to TV culture or video games (arcade or home console) or movies. I also loved the hell out of this book. I read it over the course of one day, unable to put it down. I found it so exciting.

  19. Even reading it, the first third is pretty damn slow. But I did enjoy it, although not as much as I had hoped. It's missing a lot of the heart that Cline displayed in Fanboys.

  20. OK I'm not a hardcore geek but your review made me remember playing a text based game on a TRS-80 with my mom by the hour :) It was one of those where you ran a kingdom and tried to keep your serfs alive, buy land, etc. and become king. (Adventure?) After reading your review I'm thinking I don't want to spend the time listening or maybe even reading this book. And yes - go watch "War Games" it was great fun!

  21. I'm 24, and I got a lot more of those references than I thought I would. I also just plain loved the story, and I've recommended it to all my friends with similar tastes. I did read it though, as opposed to listening, so no comment on the audiobook :)

  22. Oh wow, you have got to see War Games!

  23. All in all, I thought it was a decent story; the beginning could have been trimmed up, but overall it's still a fun read. I'd be interested in borrowing an audio copy just to hear Wil reading a few of the chapters!

    I picked up the book because I saw the post here, and I'm glad I didn't go into it with high hopes for 80s references, since I didn't feel like there were many of those. Just lots of video game references. I'm 27 and (I think) caught more than half the inside jokes. (And, hey, I don't feel too left out of the ones that I didn't understand. Although it did make me happy to see Ladyhawke mentioned!)

    (@SusanR: My friend and I just swapped RP1 and Soon I Will Be Invincible. I'm glad you liked the latter; it makes me feel good about our book choices!)

  24. I was going to comment earlier, but hen I saw your review link for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and got distracted for a while.

    I was interested in this book, but I am highly confused by some of the stuff you say was beyond you, I am 1 year younger (32) and I remember the TRS-80, text adventures, and Joust, etc. maybe I spent a lot of my childhood reliving the 70's because it was the easiest stuff to find. Star Wars was 77, but that carried through to my childhood in a big way.

    I guess I will have to just read it. Also, yes War Games was awesome in my nostalgia riddled memories of it. At least as far as computers went at the time, way more accurate then some other movies from the era.

  25. I listen to a lot of audiobooks while I drive... unfortunately my mind can't wander, it just switches off entirely and takes my body with it... Not so good when you have a 6hour drive to go see your family. So I have a small library of audiio books. I will admit that they are mostly Discworld (read by Tony Robinson) who does a fantastic job of reading the stories.

    I also have some Roald Dahl childrens books read by the great man himself. It's like you're a kid again being read a story from your grandpa.

    My favourite audiobook tho has to be The Time Travelers Wife. It has two narrators, one for the parts of the book from Henrys point of view and one for Claire. It's so well done, I would highly recommend it. Tho I would say that you should be careful not to do what my dad did. The book, what with all the time travelling, jumps about a little bit... having the tracks on shuffle will NOT help. Yes, he actual did this, and yes he went back and listened to it all again in the correct order!

  26. The first computer I ever worked on was a trash-80. they were PAINFULLY slow and doing a dungeon on them was even worse. they had the nickname for a reason...all I'm sayin.

    DO NOT watch the war games remake. horrific to say the least. the original is (of course!) much better. I hope you enjoy the movie, but watch project x with a box of tissues, you'll need them by the end.

  27. I'm with everyone else who wonders how you missed WarGames. Now I want to know if anyone else remembers Cloak and Dagger, which I think was in theaters at the same time as The Last Starfighter.

  28. I'm waaay out of the target age range -- upper 50s -- but my daughter is a couple years older than you and so I remember ALL the early computer/videogame stuff, either from my friends or her and her friends. The only thing that I didn't get was the anime stuff, but that's because I deliberately ignored it when my son got into it (other than making sure he wasn't reading all the crazy anime porn that's so popular with Japanese businessmen).

    As for the book, yes, it started off slow, but I read it first and then listened to the audiobook later and actually enjoyed them both. I think I paid better attention by listening to it since I tend to swallow books whole when reading the printed page, but I still loved the *endless* references to things I was familiar with.

    (I also have to admit I spent a fair amount of time patting myself on the back for getting so much of it!)

    It's a fun book. You can enjoy it even if you don't understand all the references, or even most of them, I suspect; and ultimately it's just an enjoyable thriller with some young romance thrown in. Not great literature, but a good read.

  29. YOU! 33! Noooooo! You don't look it!

  30. Ready Player One was good, but it lacked the heart and soul of Cline's Fanboys. It just seemed a little hollow and a little too easy. I never felt any real tension.

  31. I started reading Ready Player One on the train to my sister's this weekend. I'm about to start "Level 3" and I'm totally going through withdrawal at work right now. I'm 32, and sure some of the references I don't get, but I get enough to enjoy them and I'm completely enthralled in the story. I'm reading it on my eReader and just yesterday I was thinking what a perfect format it was for this book. Though I'm generally not a bit fan of audio books, last night I downloaded the audio version on Audible and plan to listen to it when I'm done with my first read, since I've found myself reading in Wil's voice anyway! I've also already got plans to buy it as gifts for a couple of my favorite geeks.

  32. I liked it. I got a lot of the references, but that's because I'm a second generation geek. My mom made sure to expose me to War Games and other early sci-fi classics, so I was pretty darn happy. (I'm 28.) On that note,I think the audiobook would have been excruciating simply because when you read quotes from movies you've seen, your brain provides the memory of how it was said. When someone else reads the quotes, you get jarred back into reality because the reader can't do a spot on impression. ;)

  33. Being 41, I'm part of the target group for this book. While it did take a bit to get off the ground, I thought that it was pretty well written and, overall, an excellent journey through my childhood.

    Side note: I would have figured out a way to not abandon my X-Wing. Dude. Seriously. NOTHING can beat an X-Wing. If it can take out a Death Star, a Mechagodzilla doesn't stand a chance. Bringing in Ultraman felt too much like "Hey, let me throw this reference in there, too!" to me. Completely unnecessary. But that's just my opinion.

  34. @Hi! I'm Erin & Mel - I'm listening to Ghost Story right now, and I'm not sure if I'll finish.

    Yes, Mr. Marsters early work on the Dresden Files had some issues, as Mel mentioned, but they get better and disappear as the series progresses.

    John Glover's portrayal of the characters is just bad. His voice just seems naturally whiney or something and his delivery is awkward.

    I will listen to James Marsters or Jim Dale read anything. I've heard good things about Stephen Fry, but although I've listened to a few podcasts, I've yet to listen to a book read by him.

  35. Rather off topic, but one of the recommended posts at the end of this one was your review of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and that reminded me. I read that book on your recommendation and loved it!!!!! The author got the spooky, sort of misty quality of storytelling down pat.

    (Don't know if I'd read this one, though...I was born in the eighties, and one of my earlier memories is of being in kindergarted and thinking it was a big deal that it was going to be a new decade...1990.)

  36. You haven't seen War Games? This 45 year old says: Go! Immediately and obtain a copy!

  37. I read this on my Kindle and when my baby would be up in the night to nurse I'd read it on my phone - I felt like I was already living in a mini-OASIS! But I have to confess - I kept Wikipedia up on my laptop next to me as I read because I too did not get most of the video game/geeky references (I'm 32) I still found the story entertaining and check IMdB often for updates on the movie (because of course the rights to make this book a movie have already been secured).

  38. Have not had the pleasure of listening to the audio book, but thought the book itself was pretty solid. I'm under 30, so a lot of the references were over my head. I tried to take them as they were though, Googling items if I was extremely curious/wanted more details. So while things may have not been instantly recognizable to me, it made me look at the past and get more involved than I would've without researching it. Sometimes the beauty isn't "getting the reference", but that it makes you take a closer look at something you may have otherwise passed by. So in a way, the book is keeping the past "alive", much the same way Halliday kept it somewhat alive for Wade's generation.

    Side note, Ernest Cline is one cool dude. Met him at a book signing and it was interesting in the Q&A to hear what big influences all the reference were for him growing up.

    And Jen Tidwell: Rights to a movie were sold around the time of publishing. Whether or not it'll actually make it to the big screen (and unscathed) are yet to be seen....

  39. I read the book, didn't listen to it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can't stand to listen to audio books (I do medical transcription, so have voices droning in my ears all day long, and the thought of having to listen to "one more thing" just makes me want to scream). It did get off to a slow start, but once it got going, I was hooked. I'm only a year older than you, and I missed a LOT of the references, but it didn't detract for me. Oh, and you're not alone in having not seen War Games... it's on my to do list sometime in the future.

  40. ummmmmmm... you've never seen War Games?

    "Shall we play a game?"

  41. *You* haven't seen War Games?!?!?!?!?

  42. I find that for me with audio books, it all depends on who's reading it. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (a biography/history lesson in medicine, not a fantasy novel as the title suggests) was great on audio. Since the story is written by a white woman, the narrator was a white woman, but all the black people were voiced by a black woman. It worked extremely well. In fact, I picked up the book to finish it after I'd started listening to it on audio and I was a bit lost!

    I also really enjoyed Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker as read by Doug Bradley (aka Pinhead from Hellraiser). It had me laughing out loud...if you like books about the funny side of demons trying to take over the world with a lot of gore in them.

    Sooo...what other audio books did you listen to?

  43. 1- You must see War Games.
    2- Have you read the YA novel, Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier? It is about a time travelling teenager. I am reading it with my 12 year old daughter and we both love it. The only bad part is that it is the 1st in a trilogy and the second 2 haven't yet been translated and published in English. Alas, I only took 2 years of HS German and don't think that would cut it to read them.

  44. audiobooks - if you've never heard Anansi Boys, listen to it-the speaker's voice is wonderful - Lenny Henry; also-the Harry Potters as read by Jim Dale are magnificent

  45. Loved this book! I'm definitely in the demo (44) and was a video game geek back in the day"(see how old I am? who says "back in the day" anymore?). I played Adventure and Joust and got all but the Japanese references (except for Mechagodzilla... who doesn't know Mechagodzilla?). I even own the vinyl of Rush's 2112 so I could check out all the references myself. On that note, I'd love a soundtrack of this book!

    It's the only audiobook ever where I got to the end and started again right after. I loved all the "meta" moments where Wil Wheaton referenced himself or Star Trek. Le sigh....

  46. So... you've never seen War Games? Jen, you've been missing out! And enjoy the Death Books and the Death Codes. ;)

  47. I'm so glad you listened to Ready Player One. My brother and I both read it, as part of his first expedition into the teen room of our public library, and we both thought it was absolutely amazing. Both of us are very nerdy, and both of us play video games (though he plays a looootttt more than I do), so I thought it was very neat how he referenced all of this stuff. I'm 15, and my brother is 10, so we were waaayyyy below the target audience and didn't understand most of what was referenced, but it was still enjoyable. I agree that the beginning was way too slow, even if you were reading it, and actually, I also thought that some of the middle was incredibly slow, too, but I enjoyed all of the drama at the end, as did my brother. There was no sense of nostalgia for us, of course, because we're so young...I love that it had a ton of genres in it, romance, geekiness, suspense, danger, adventure. I also love the idea of the OASIS, and the idea of the ultimate Easter egg being left as a will for the best video game designer ever. In all, both my brother and I loved the book.

  48. I'm 31 and got almost all the references, but I definitely called shenanigans on the first puzzle going unsolved for 5 years on the internet. It was not obscure enough for that, I'm sorry. I definitely think that while it's sort of an age thing, if you spent enough time with older things, then you don't need to be older. I also agree with the person who felt they were just trying to stuff as many pop culture references as possible into the book in order to market it that way.

  49. I just finished RPO a couple weeks back. Sorry I'm a bit slow on the up-take. With four kids and a stack of books I'm working my way through...

    Anyway, I think I'm a bit the reverse of you. While I enjoyed the book, it was the geek-fest portions that I enjoyed. The story? Yeah, not so much. It felt like the author took a basic story template, then stuffed in geek references around it to beef it up a lot. Don't get me wrong: the process worked. But not as much as I had hoped.

    Being from Oklahoma City, I did enjoy the references--I know exactly where Wade lived. It's not a mobile home park at the moment, but I can see why that spot was picked to become one.

    There were a few parts that I really had to overlook some of the stuff being said, but that wasn't a big deal. I just took it to mean that the author was trying to tell us his philosophy, so I just left that alone.

    There were other parts that I could easily see actually happening--things like the voting online, that the voting really doesn't matter much, because it's all a popularity contest anyway, how the government could become being run by celebrities who can't really change anything, etc.

    While I will recommend this book to a fellow geek, I will also be telling them not to expect much as far as story goes. It's too predictable (although the quarter was a nice touch--even though it felt like the author had written himself into a corner and had to figure a way out of it), too cookie-cutter, but it's still a fun quick romp.


  50. We are now reading this in my online book club and I linked your review for everyone to check out. :)

  51. We read this for a book club (and will discuss it this week!) but I absolutely loved it. I'm 27, and though I didn't get all the references I got a lot of them and expected that some would be more obscure. I didn't really experience the slowness either, I got caught up in the world immediately, and then had to read for 2.5 hours straight once I got about halfway in so I could finish it. I had a couple issues with the character development, it seemed like Wade was super young at the beginning, but then randomly felt like he was quite a bit older at other moments, and jumped around. But overall, I loved it and was totally hooked!

  52. I absolutely LOVED the audiobook! I wasn't bothered as much by the length because I am always listening to audiobooks. I rarely notice how long it's actually taken to listen to the whole thing. I really enjoyed the story and got most of the references (I'm 30, so younger than the intended audience). I want the book now, but glad I listened to the audiobook first. I tend to like the book more if I listen first.


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