So YA dystopias have always been a Thing–maybe the trope seems tired now, with the many deviations of The Hunger Games vying for our attention. But hey, don’t roll yours eyes just yet when I recommend this charming dystopia as the next best thing you’re going to read. Seriously Ready Player One has got it all. And, sure it’s a somewhat unknown underdog, but it packs a pretty mean nostalgia-punch with witty lines and charming characters that come straight out of your favorite RPG.
In a far off future where the world is an ugly place, virtual reality is the one bright space for millions around the world hooked up to the virtual utopia known as OASIS. Taking cues from your favorite “virtual reality headset MMORPG” series, the OASIS has penetrated all parts of life — evolving from an incredibly popular and immersive MMORPG to the new status quo in business and education. Wade Watts is just one of millions of students jacked into the OASIS’ public school system, but as senior year of his online high school approaches, his future looks pretty bleak: higher education off-line is a joke, most jobs are actually a form of slavery, and your neighbor is likely to knife you and sell your organs on the blackmarket as soon as you walk out your door.
So instead of turning to the horrors of the “real world” for his future, Wade Watts is determined to live on the net, devoting his time to unlock the puzzles and secrets hidden in OASIS. Especially since the OASIS’ eccentric, multi-billionaire designer has left his vast fortune and ownership of the OASIS to any lucky player who solves his “Easter Egg” puzzles left behind in hidden parts of this virtual world. And when he stumbles upon the first clue, Wade Watts not only unlocks the possibility of a brighter future–but also a whole underworld of dangers simmering beneath the glimmering, coded beauty of the OASIS.
Okay so I admit, all of this sounds like every typical virtual-world-reality plot ever in existence. (.hack//sign or Sword Art Online ring any bells?) But what Ready Player One excels at is the sheer brilliance of its worldbuilding, along with author, Ernest Cline’s, wonderful insight into the nostalgia of pop-culture and the Millenial experience. The nostalgia factor in Ready Player One is strong–geeks of all stripes will grin at all the references, of course, but they will greatly appreciate the way that geekdom, fandom, and Internet subculture is woven together as a profound part of what keeps Cline’s dystopia afloat. For Millenials especially, we are a generation that has grown up with the Internet–and we certainly have a greater appreciation for the communities that emerge from trolling around the Internet and the fact that there is an entire global world of human interaction that leads to crowdsourcing escapades unique to the twentieth century. In the midst of a bleak dystopian landscape, the OASIS demonstrates the people-power that emerges from a shared love of all-things geek and a global connection to some pretty epic, world-changing results.
Furthermore, Ernest Cline is addressing issues that I think are already at the forefront of many teens and Millenials these days. For instance: What’s the purpose of education during a dwindling, depressing job market? What can we do in a world that doesn‘t listen to younger voices? What are the consequences of corporate take overs? And how does the ability for Internet anonymity or the creation of personas–empower (or endanger) the lives of the people who use the net? If dystopian fiction not only presents a bleak future but insight into the present, then Ready Player One will certainly strike a chord with older teens-college-aged kids — with a helpful tinge of nostalgia, too.
I mean, we’ve talked about how important nostalgia is, before, but Ready Player One uses our love of looking back at the past for something that is lovingly tinged with symbolism. Fans of the 80s sci-fi-fantasy flicks, classic anime, and vintage video games get a special shout-out in Ready Player One–-not only to highlight some of the classics, I’m sure, but also because of the hopeful tone that many of the old-timey geeky media carries and the celebration of the human spirit that’s found in these classics.
For Wade Watts and the other players trying to win the multi-billion-dollar prize, they’ll be needing all the hope they can get.
So if you’re looking for your next “geeky” read? Or if you’re looking for another take on the over saturated “dystopia” story– I highly recommend Ready Player One. It is a fun novel, that takes on the YA dystopia genre and does it with 80s-themed geeky style. No worries about tired love-triangles here with mopey beautiful babes and equally moody muscular young men–in fact, readers who desperately wish for fat representation, awesome female characters, and POC representation, won’t walk away disappointed, either.
So with smart world-building, the charming nostalgia factor, and an incredibly likeable (and wonderfully diverse) cast, Ready Player One is definitely a novel you must give a shot!