Ready Player One is coming out as a film, and undoubtedly it it will be as good as the novel. Steven Spielberg is directing, and though he’s often criticized for being a little saccharine and pop-corny, Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, is also a little saccharine and pop-corny. The novel isn’t perfect—the protagonist is constantly just a bit too lucky—but Ready Player is the best plotted story I’ve read in a long time. All that comes close are the first two Hunger Games books (as for Mockingjay, well, let’s just not talk about that). So yes, Cline’s story, in any form, is very much worth checking out.
When I say something like “plotted well,” I mean there’s a constant stream of conflict-resolution-conflict-resolution that keeps interest well. A fast pace is almost a hallmark of Young Adult (YA) fiction, and I have no problem with anything unashamedly YA. In fact, if I ever wrote a novel, I’d try to imitate Ready Player or The Hunger Games as much as possible. Stakes don’t have to be too high and melodrama can be fun, which is something I think Spielberg understands. Throw out Schindler’s List and Munich, and what you have is a filmography of well-plotted movies. Or, if Ready Player is half as fun as Raiders of the Last Ark, it will do well.
So Ready Player isn’t original, which is A-OK. If you like the central story and want to read something similar, I’d highly recommend two other novels. The first is Snow Crash. It was written by Neal Stephenson in 1992, and it features a virtual world and haptic feedback equipment—just like in Ready Player. Snow Crash could be read by young adults, but young adults who are prepared for a darker take on the single-protagonist-saves-the-real-and-virtual-world story. Snow Crash gets a bit into the weeds with both computer programming and archaeology. I felt like I learned a bit from reading it though, and saccharine the novel is not.
And now for the adult book. Neuromancer, written by William Gibson in 1984, is all the same jazz—a computer junkie, future electronics, a love story. But this is the novel that started it all, and Neuromancer gave rise to the cyberpunk genre. Of all of the texts I re-read from time to time, Neuromancer is the only one that always feels entirely fresh. It was the first novel to ever win the Nebula Award, Hugo Award, and Philip K. Dick award in the same year. It anticipated not just the internet, but artificial intelligence and bio-augmentation. Even in 2018 it has aged wonderfully. And honestly, I still don’t know what 100% of it is about.
Something that I didn’t catch on first read is that Gibson’s title has at least three meanings: neuro-mancer, necro-mancer, and new-romancer, all of which makes sense with regards to the story. I love language, and it’s cleverness like that which keeps me coming back to the novel. So check it out, perhaps, and if you do, ask yourself after if you could see it as a Spielberg film. Probably not, right? Which is fine—saccharine is good, but sometimes we need the bitter to appreciate the sweet. Also: if any novel mentioned here leaves you itching for more to read, Snow Crash has one follow-up, and Neuromancer two. So read them all, and it might just hold you over until Ernest Cline finishes Ready Player Two.
–Jeff and Leah