There was a familiar yet original feel to this novel.
When I was a teacher there were times when the classroom simply was not big enough. We had to sit three children to a desk and a few around the teacher's desk. We teachers fantasised about a virtual classroom where there were no behaviour issues and no lost homework because it was all online. There would be virtual field trips where the children could go back in time, or visit another continent or go into the solar system. This was how Ready Player One opened. So, naturally, it had me straight away.
There were a couple of other familiarities, too. One was the premise of the novel that an eccentric billionaire devises a way for ordinary people to inherit his fortune by playing computer games and seeking clues to progress, reminding me of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Everyone in the book lives practically their whole lives in a virtual world, where they can earn money, get educated and ultimately die. Just like the film The Matrix. And if you lived through the 1980s the pop culture will be very familiar and to many, nostalgic.
Building the futuristic world in this science fiction novel took up quite a chunk of the first part of the book, meaning that the story didn't really get going until at least half way through. Some features took far too long to explain, such as the idea that the protagonist didn't believe in God and spent pages telling us about how we evolved from amoeba when a paragraph was sufficient. All the way through were frequent references to books, films, music and the computer games of the 1980s, with details of release dates, publishers and directors. For some of my peers this was a great trip down memory lane, but for me (who was not keen on much from the 80s) it was an information dump and a boring one at that.
I have played computer games over the last twenty years and I can identify with many aspects of the quests. However, for a large section of the book it felt like a description of someone playing a game and it didn't really grip me. The writing style indicates that the target audience is YA as the hero is in his late teens and the narrative is from his perspective. It is easy to read, slangy, but readers not familiar with the 80s pop culture may not follow all of it. There is a romantic element which is too drawn out and Disneyesque. I could almost hear something from Frozen playing in the background as their virtual bodies transmorphed and floated in the air.
The cliches, stereotypes, cursing and casual everyday sexism and racism seemed very much twentieth century in attitude although the story is set in the future. Of course, this could very well be how it is in 2044, who can say. The way the poor are depicted has an uncomfortable certainty to it. Real life is depressing, there is violence and murder, making this book a work encompassing dystopia and dark fiction.
It was the final third of the book that saved the story. The disadvantaged kids against the corporate giants in a huge virtual battle scene that had real life ramifications. An easy and fun read if you were a kid from the eighties.