Fiction Science Fiction

Ernest Kline: Ready Player One

Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One
Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One

When I first called this website “A book is a dream you hold in your hand,” it was this kind of reading I was thinking about. Ready Player One is written in the first person limited point of view of an eighteen year old male teen, and the action of the book takes place inside an alternative reality that plays out like the mother of all video games, Blade Runner on steroids. Where else could I experience such a different world view from mine? Oh, at the movies, of course, and Ready Player One will be on the big screen in 2018 at the hand of the liege mage himself, Steven Spielberg.

Right from page one, author Ernest Cline sets up a future dystopia that looks as beat up as any Mad Max set. The entire population disappears into an immersive virtual reality called OASIS. The founder/designer of OASIS left a fortune when he died to whoever could solve a series of riddles and video-game-type challenges in the mother of all Easter Egg hunts.

Our hero is Wade, and the second I saw his avatar’s name was Parzival, I was in. I could see Cline was signaling that he had read Joseph Campbell’s work on Parsival and the search for the Holy Grail and therefore knew his Hero’s Journey stuff.

I could see Cline was signaling that he had read Joseph Campbell's work on Parsival and the search for the Holy Grail and therefore knew his Hero's Journey stuff.

And sure enough, our hero quickly hears his Call to Adventure, solves the initial series of problems and is rewarded with a new identity, money and fame–and the girl. All that in the first half of the book–you just know all that is at risk for the second half.

The girl, Art3mis, at this halfway point is a distraction for Our Hero to the point of being a narcotic. Like Odysseus, detained and distracted by Circe for seven years before he could get his journey focus back, Wade has no intrinsic motivation to get his mojo back and continue the game.

The tension that we’d expect to arc all the way across the full trajectory of the book has flatlined at the halfway point in his novel; Cline has to wind up all the machinery of story and begin all over again.

“Standing there, under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth. In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified video game” (198).

Here is the reader’s first inkling of whatever hope will be the hero’s real quest: to claim his humanity.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

–Joseph Campbell

I never doubt Cline has done his Hero’s Journey homework. For example, Wade/Parzival gets his second wind when the girlfriend beats him to the next clue. He solves it himself with a little cleverness and a lot of dumb luck, which is true to the Hero archetype as also a Fool. Cline also provides futuristic scenes of the Arming of the Warrior, Meeting with the Goddess, Apotheosis, and Magical Flight. And because the journey pattern is so ancient, it somehow never fails to satisfy in the hand of a master storyteller like Cline.

Once a reader know to pick up the golden thread of the journey and to follow it through to the end, then she can relax and enjoy the ride of Cline cleverness as he plumbs the depths of 1980s pop culture arcana. This is a subject of absolutely no interest to me IRW (“in the real world”), but in the virtual world of the book, all the accreting detail makes sense. An insatiable obsession with this tesserae is Hero Wade/Parzival’s most powerful weapon in solving the grand Easter Egg Hunt.

The battle scene at the end of Ready Payer One is lots of visual fun as five famous robots face off and proceed to blast, blow, hack, laser, spindle, mutilate and incinerate each other. When it is all over and the dust has settled, Parzival becomes ordinary Wade again wooing a shy maiden in their newly discovered Real World.

It’s there at the very last chaste kiss that I’m reminded that this book really is a young adult title. But I read it with my young adult eyes; held on and enjoyed a helluva ride with a loud 1980s soundtrack blasting the roof off.

Book cover for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Book cover for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


About the author

Sandy Brown Jensen

All my life, the ultimate vacation was unstructured reading time. It was absolutely the best part of being a kid. I am now a newly retired college writing teacher, and suddenly I have long, luxurious afternoons to do nothing but read. The name of this website, "Books my Friends have Written" came to me in a dream, although I write about any book I want to. I am also an arts reviewer on KLCC, NPR for Oregonians.

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