Ready Player One

Plans for the evening: Write some code I don’t really care for.
Actual activity for the evening: Binge the latter half of Ernest Cline‘s Ready Player One.
As literature, it isn’t exactly stunning – the writing is standard mass market light reading fare (think Dan Brown, and that isn’t exactly complimentary) – but it is possibly the most glorious wallow through geek culture I’ve ever experienced. Geeky Movies. Geeky TV. Old video games. New video games. Geek issues. The Internet. All of it is, through a contrived but delightful plot device, the entire topic of the book. It picks up a huge amount of influence from predecessors in the style, especially Vernor Vinge’s True Names (One of my favorite novellas) and Cory Doctorow’s YA fiction (Little Brother is worth reading no matter how old you are) and makes self-aware references as nods to the things it borrows. The whole thing is extraordinarily masturbatory, to the point of occasionally damaging the storytelling and conception to reach through the forth wall, shake you and ask “Aren’t you excited too?!” but it is totally unashamed, and it is so much fun to just go with it (Enchantment of just going with it vs. disenchantment of thinking about it visible in the contrast of the review and comments here)

It’s also a little bit heartbreaking, because much of the promise the plot hinges on has been eroding away. It presumes that the copyrights on all the pop culture ephemera of the 1980s will have expired in 2044. Thanks to the concerted efforts of entities like Disney, that isn’t likely. Likewise, in an early chapter, it notes “People rarely used their real names online. Anonymity was one of the major perks of …” and goes on as though the “Avatars first, real identities (with physical baggage) for those you choose” model of the internet hasn’t been eroded is a matter of course, and hinges the bulk of the plot on that premise. It even accepts that various things online will need your real name and identity, but, like all such stories, posits that users will chose to go by their handle, and only use real names online where necessary. I grew up in that ‘net. My imagination is set in that ‘net. I want that ‘net back. But it just isn’t the way things are happening (this shame ray is pointed at Facebook and Google).

All that is to say, it isn’t high literature, it isn’t a worldview changer, but holy crap is it fun.

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