Hey, Remember the 80s – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011) by Ernest Cline

When James Halliday, the 1980s obsessed creator of the OASIS virtual system, dies revelations from his video will kick off a puzzle laden quest for a hidden Easter egg within the system that will reward the finder with control of his company and the OASIS.  High School Student Wade Watts (Avatar Name Parzival) and his friends search for this prize, facing off against other seekers, duplicitous mega-corporations, and challenges that require an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s pop culture.

Back in the 1990s, Saturday Night Live ran a series of sketches featuring Jim Bruer as Goat Boy, a genetically engineered man-goat who hosted a talk show called Hey, Remember the 80’s.  Goat Boy would basically list off various pop culture things from the decade, and then would talk about them, before going wild and attacking his handlers.  It was a ridiculous premise, but I could not help hearing Goat Boy’s bleated cry of Heeeey, Remember the 80s every time Parzival gave an explanation for some classic 1980s arcade game, summarized the plot of a John Hughes movie, or made a reference to some other obscure pop culture point.  This book mentions many artifacts of the 1980s, but just piling reference upon reference does not create a compelling storyEventually it seemed to wander off and get lost in its asides and I was more interested in seeing how many of the references I recognized, rather than focusing on the plot.

The characters in this book seemed more like archetypes then fully realized people, the plot is pretty much the standard “heroes journey” fantasy quest, and at several points Parzival only makes progress because of “Deus ex machina” type events.  The writing was very descriptive, and Cline’s images were easy to visualize, but how much of that is the author, and how much of that is the fact that I have probably seen Wargames a dozen times, and can visualize the opening scene in my head.

I think part of the problem with this book, for me, was that it felt too real.  Not so much in the setting, but in Parzival and the other characters obsession with the 1980s.  I grew up in the era myself, and many of the arguments in this book I have had with my friends (if you ask I will tell why I think the Ewoks are the most hardcore race in the Star Wars universe).  I’ve been to the Tomb of Horrors, and I still go to a tabletop role play game two times month.  If, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt, the maybe my contempt for Parzival is based in my own concern that I am much too obsessed with pop culture of my youth and would got lost in a maze of nostalgia instead of confronting the real world..

But if you are not that familiar with the 1980s, or want to be reminded of the 1980s, then Ready Player One offers a decent look at what it was like to be a nerd or have geeky pursuits at the time.  I read this book as part of a book club that has a wide spectrum of people in it form different age groups, and I am curious to see what their reactions will be.  Stephen Spielberg, the only director really appropriate for this project, is filming a movie version of Ready Player One for 2018, and it will be interesting to see what intellectual properties he can secure the rights to use.

Genre: Pop Culture, Science Fiction

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