Monday, August 20, 2012

TO-READ l Ready Player One

"I'd never heard of an undead lich challenging someone to a joust. Especially not in a subterranean burial chamber." 

Neither had I. But then I hadn't heard of the 1985 film Vision Quest, starring Matthew Modine either before reading Ernest Cline's '80s pop-generated, nauseatingly familiar science-fiction novel Ready Player One, which takes place on Earth, in the year 2044, as experienced/endured almost exclusively online, in what has come, thanks to the billionaire, Steve Jobs-like gaming genius James Halliday, to take the place of the internet and change its name to The Oasis: a virtual, alternative reality, preferred not only by Gunters (a group of gamer-hunters desperate to inherit Halliday's posthumous fortune, "up for grabs" like an invisible $100 dollar bill blowing around the parking lot of an IKEA, but with clues), but by all in the apparently and literally higher rate of lower-class citizens, with no choice but to live, work, learn, and play virtually anywhere, but home, which as the book's cover points out is, for most, a teetering assemblage of trailer homes, known affectionately as "The Stacks."  It's kind of like the opposite of those banners you often see hanging from the streetlights in the suburbs that promote the uniquely American dream of mostly eating where you shit, with the help of a few verbs like "laugh" and "love" and "play" and stuff.

If you're puzzled at why I'm taking the trouble to uncharacteristically explain the novel's plot instead of simply coloring in chalk doodads of my thoughts across your mental front doorstep as usual, I'll tell you, so am I. But I wonder if I'm not attempting for myself to make sense out of, not the contents or the story of this novel, which is, aside from the $100 dollar bill analogy, pretty straightforward, but the motivation behind its being written in the first place. I'm not being belligerent, I swear, like that scene in Ghostbusters where Bill Murray tells the judge "It's true," the director of the EPA "has no dick." Everybody gets one.

No, what I mean is, what's revealed to us in a book that for the most part spits back pop-culture like popcorn seeds, rather than coming up with something at least based on life? Except that it occurs to me that Ready Player One is far less flung than its setting in the year 2044 and classification as a work of science-fiction would lead one to believe, and not just because its references to '80s media and attitudes are already antique, but because of what's implied even in asking such a question: experience at no remove is hard to come by. Or at least it feels like it to those of us who grew up before the internet, but after one could lose themselves from a distance in movies and TV.

And so while Ready Player One's been called "dystopian" and "fun," it's much less like The Matrix than a half-hour on facebook, both in terms of the attention that it calls to questions of identity and simulations of reality, if not by asking anything specific, especially depending where you sit and watch your phone alone. Though, to be fair, Cline's online world does advance his characters to the next level, with simulations of simulations, not unlike a double-whopper, I imagine, or ever meeting Greta Gerwig. "Ay Carumba!" Okay, two. Everybody gets two.

You could say... sorry... I could say that Ready Player One is nothing more than an effusive love note written to the '80s and nostalgia in general. And while at times I felt that way, I also felt assured that Cline, unlike the Gunters, isn't in this for the money (shocker!) or the promise of a sequel, but working backwards, believe it or not, in pursuit of an electrifying impulse borne of sheer want to express his already outer dork. Which though not everyone will want to watch, admittedly is noble. More noble even than a knight in digital armor, adorned with a surplus of 0's and 1's, with the words to "Jukebox Hero" in his head.

And for the record, I did see Bye Bye Love, starring Matthew Modine, Randy Quaid, and Paul Reiser. Seven times! And loved it! Everybody gets three.

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