Ready Player One

I admit I watched this 80s throwback before reading the book. Hey, I’m a fan of Spielberg. For me, he helped define the 80s. These were movie moments. ET with his glowing finger telling Elliot “I’ll be right here.” Indiana Jones grabbing the idol and leaping away from the rumbling stone boulder. The eerie tones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Through a camera lens, he shaped a generation. So, it’s not surprising that when my kid asked me what my movie of the year is and I told him, “Ready Player One.” Not every script Steven touches turns to gold (Minority Report comes to mind), but he has an almost flawless track record. I like this Virtual Reality tale better than Infinity War, Black Panther, and Ant Man. The side effect of having a twelve-year-old at home is that you see the entire catalog of the Marvel Universe. These movies are so well put together that this is a positive. And I have to admit, Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow fighting off Thanos resonate at the box office because comics were an integral part of the 80s. I fondly look back at my childhood and its influences.

Children of the 80s, This is Your Book.

The pop culture references in Ready Player One are strong. It’s the platform that the book is built upon. For an alternative review, the picture never grabbed my kid. Frankly, I think he would be fine never giving this a rewatch. He didn’t recognize the subtle references sprinkled throughout from Quiet Riot blaring across the final battle scene to the litany of Atari games on the final key.

Also, I pair the movie and book together. Similar in spirit but different on many levels. I enjoyed both immensely, which rarely happens. The book always wins. Here, I feel it’s almost a draw. Different. But both are well put together nonetheless.

Written in 2011, the book is a forward-thinking piece of science fiction sprinkled with references to popular and obscure video games (Contra, Golden Axe, Heavy Barrel, Smash TV, and Ikari Warriors), books, and movies. The book hooked me with the kid’s password to the virtual reality world of the Oasis:

“You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada.”

You’re damn right and I’d put Xur in his place. I had some mad gaming skills in the world of yesteryear. I could crush Ninja Gaiden without losing a life or using an extra quarter.

While reading, I can tell the author loved writing this book. His joy of the 80s leaps off the page, especially with the creation of the ultimate contest. Told in the first person by Wade Watts, a group of fellow gunters solve puzzles to find the Easter Egg, left behind by the Oasis creator. Whoever finds three keys inherits a vast fortune and becomes caretaker of the virtual world. It’s a contest with high stakes. In the real world, I can’t wait to see what Gates and Buffet leave behind when they meet the great creator-the ante has been raised. Wade Watts may be the narrator in this tale, but the lead belongs to the Oasis creator Halladay. He’s a larger-than-life character/founder, who built a technological achievement that won’t be rivaled in the real or fantasy world.

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As the inventor’s background was described in the book, I thought of Malcolm Gladwell. In one of his books, he highlights how Gates and Jobs had help on their road to success. A conflux of events, location, and timing led to their achievements. In society, we often think of these titans as single-minded achievers and larger-than-life characters. These mythical gods succeed no matter what situation they find themselves in. But do we really think Bill Gates would have invented Windows if he grew up on a farm in Central Iowa? Or South Africa? With a few exceptions, most technologists who founded the titans of tech grew up in similar geographies and time periods. No, Bill Gates didn’t have a one in eight billion chance of founding Microsoft. The relative odds were probably one in fifty. There were only so many computers and computers available at the time. And both were in the middle of a technical revolution. This isn’t today’s world where a small computer is in everyone’s back pockets.

And this makes me sad.

The conflux of events didn’t collate for my generation. We never had a Halladay. All of those hours of video games, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and watching Back to the Future didn’t generate a tech titan. Video game companies went bankrupt after Atari’s rise. Talent fed into corporate America. One could argue that Google or Facebook wouldn’t exist without a child of the 80s paving the way forward. But I can’t help but think about what might have been. What if the technology had been more available? The job culture slightly different?

I’ll stop pondering. And yes, read this book after the movie. The magic holds.

Other Notes:

  • I give the book credit for highlighting the good and bad of technology. The world inside the Oasis is pristine but as the virtual world grew the real world took a dive. Crime. Poverty. Corruption. Nuclear war. Earnest Cline’s world is a little bleak. Ohio is the world’s greatest city … I mean state. Depending on the incentives, technology can have side effects both good and bad.
  • When it came to my research, I never took any shortcuts. Over the past five years, I’d worked my way down the entire recommended gunter reading list. Douglas Adams. Kurt Vonnegut. Neal Stephenson. Richard K. Morgan. Stephen King. Orson Scott Card. Terry Pratchett. Terry Brooks. Bester, Bradbury, Haldeman, Heinlein, Tolkien, Vance, Gibson, Gaiman, Sterling, Moorcock, Scalzi, Zelazny. I read every novel by every single one of Halliday’s favorite authors. Pretty good list.
  • Two joysticks protruded from its control panel, one yellow and one blue. I couldn’t help but grin as I read the name on the game’s backlit marquee: JOUST. Williams Electronics, 1982. Was there a better game than joust? A beast of a game.
  • “I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.” —Groucho Marks. This quote was prominent in the movie. I was a bit surprised by its origin.
  • Headliner picture? My favorite lunchbox from the 80s. Gizmo always saves the day.