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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ready Player One is a Gen X Great American Novel

Ready Player One is a Great American Novel.
No joke. It really is. I just finished reading Ready Player One, the debut novel from Ernest Cline, a writer I've met a billion times in Austin but that doesn't matter. Ready Player One, coming from Crown in August, is a great American novel. Every page makes you tremble in awe, that a book can so deftly and even heart-wrenchingly capture so many phenomena of modern life: the love of pop culture, the sacrifice of identity to a better, false, virtual self, the neglect of a world in exchange for a beautiful second one.

In short, Ready Player One is about a young man in the year 2044 whose one shot at escaping poverty is to win a scavenger-hunt-like quest in the OASIS, the virtual world that has essentially become what Second Life would like to be, the preferred mode of living for the entire planet. But to be victorious, the winner of the contest must be able to follow the esoteric clues left by the faintly mad creator behind OASIS, and that means knowing and loving everything the creator did. And that means knowing, and loving, the suburban escapes of the 1970s and 80s. Yes! Our hero must win his fortune by knowing not just the dialog but the blocking of great movies; he must know the quirks of the first versions of coin-op arcade games; he must remember the cover art of old D&D modules and take meetings in replicas of the Family Ties living room.

And all through this giddy, whirlwind marriage of futurism and pop culture festishism, Cline returns again and again to a series of somber, tragic notes: we are alone in a world we are ruining, our culture is beautiful, so beautiful that it draws us to dream away our lives, and that in our darkest moments we do not care. Add to all of this a love story, giant robot battles, and even a final fight like something out of The Two Towers.

I can't say enough. This is an amazing piece of work, the kind of work every writer wants to do. Well done. When Ready Player One comes, you must get it.

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