One of the two books I have recently finished is Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. With a renewed interest in science fiction, this book came with a long list of recommendations and commendations.
Ready Player One is a near future science fiction story set in a dystopian world where global warming and environmental degradation have forced massed migrations, food shortages, and poverty on much of the world. It is a setting in which the interests of capitalism rule, but where an alternative reality exists in the simulated virtual reality of OASIS, a social media hub, game, commercial experience and more combined all into one. It is a pervasive and all encompassing alternate reality that many people in the world succumb to, choosing the prospect of a glorious life in the simulation over the life that faces them outside it. It is a bleak picture of the future that is touched on throughout the novel but never really explored in depth.
The story follows the protagonist Wade Watts and his OASIS alter ego Parzival as he seeks to find hidden easter eggs within OASIS and win a competition initiated by its creator. The winner of the challenge would gain control of the company that runs the simulation (and the hefty bank balance to go with it).
The story is an interesting one, the creator of OASIS, James Halliday, was obsessed with the 80s, and pop culture references and geek culture from that time dominate the story and are a fundamental aspect of solving the challenges. There is action, both in real life and in the simulation, and both Wade and Parzival have their opportunities to shine. The enemy of the scenario is a rival company using every means within the technical orbit of the 'rules' of the challenge to gain control of OASIS.
The themes or corporate greed, geek culture and dystopian motifs all rise and fall throughout the story. I enjoyed the ride, but felt that some of the core themes of the setting were brushed over, such as the toll on humanity taken by a life lived vicariously through an avatar.
The relationships in the story were interesting, but ultimately the romance, friendships and animosities feel a little shallow. There is a hefty element of deus ex machina that comes into play toward the climax. It could be that the reason some of these elements are written as they are is because of the first person perspective of the book. However, these elements felt, for me, a touch superficial, a touch glib and detached.
I found the novel engaging, the setting interesting and the characters likable. However, in the afterglow of finishing the book there was some element or spark that just didn't seem to fire with me. To me, Ready Player One is a good book, but is also the shadow of a great book, fallen short of the mark.