Ready Player One: A Billion Dumptrucks’ Worth of Worthless Crud

Monday , 31, July 2017 66 Comments

Ready Player One’s Wade, wallowing in CG nostalgia.

Ready Player One is a festering mound of garbage, with barely any redeeming features. Neal Stephenson did it first, and better, in Snow Crash and Nick Cole did it better, and with more human drama and emotion, in Soda Pop Soldier. Next to them, Ready Player One is a billion dumptrucks’ worth of worthless crud.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One exemplifies that strange, contradictory mix typical of our debased modern entertainment: it’s simultaneously simplemindedly naive and deeply cynical. It is the product of a person who unquestioningly accepts all the tenets of postmodernism, who is a true believer in them to a degree so intense as to shame the merely fanatical: the writer’s false beliefs are so fundamental to how he sees the world that he simply cannot imagine it might be any other way. This produces a mix of foolish pseudo-Utopianism and gargantuan cynicism.

Just one example: IOI (“Innovative Online Industries”), the requisite Oh-So-Evil Corporation and primary villain, casually slaughters a couple of hundred people just to assassinate one gamer, engages in state-approved debt slavery (literal lifelong slavery for failure to pay a credit-card bill), and plans to take over (essentially) the entire Internet and rule it with an iron fist. This is cliched, obvious, and unoriginal. (See: Max Headroom, Alien, every cyberpunk novel ever written, etc.)

“Cliched” perfectly describes most of the book, in fact. It wallows in cliche, is composed almost wholly of cliches, and never rises above the level of cliche.

Here’s some more of the book’s many other flaws:

  • The book is built around an endless series of in-jokes and (ostensibly) obscure references to 1980’s pop culture. Indeed, mastering and repeating back such trivia is the entire point of the in-world quest. Yet, for a book centered around “REMEMBER THIS THING FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD? BATHE IN THAT NOSTALGIA!”, its references are stunningly, boringly obvious and not at all clever or thoughtful. Shallow, inapt in-jokes don’t make for a great book.
  • It hits every single Crapsack World cliche on the books: Peak Oil, One Percenters uber alles, OMGOSH DAS CRIME IS OUTTEN DAS CONTROL… I think they might even have slipped a little Ozone Depletion in there, but I might be mixing RP1 up with every other cliched environmentalist-tract-posing-as-science-fiction-novel I’ve read over the years.
  • One MMO—OASIS—becomes the OS for everything and replaces the Internet? Makes no sense. Especially when your in-game wealth and digital property disappear with a single death. (The book’s climax wipes out somewhere between 1/27th and 1/2 of the global economy, because of a randomly generated artifact-level loot drop.) NO WAY that game becomes super-popular, much less the backbone of all entertainment and commerce and everything else, any more than the Oculus Rift port of Ark: Survival Evolved will grow to replace the iTunes Store, the New York Stock Exchange, and everything else online.
  • The book is plastic, superficial, and utterly ignorant of real people. The flirting reads like something an alien who knows what flirting is, but who’s never actually seen it, would write.
  • The main character, Wade, is a LOSER. He stalks a girl for years, when he finally meets her and she doesn’t vomit at his mere appearance, he instantly proclaims his true love and begs her to love him back. It’s PATHETIC. Then—unaccountably—she somehow starts to like him and he does it AGAIN. When she finally says no, he abandons his quest—the thing that has dominated his life for five years—and runs off and has sex with a motorized Real Doll for a couple of weeks before self loathing drives him back to the plot. (And yet, somehow, she later falls for the loser stalker. See above, about “written by an alien”.)
  • A diversity checklist Intersectionalist Bingo winner—oppressed black overweight lesbian woman kicked out of the house by her judgmental Christian mother—makes an appearance. This specific mixture has become something of a cliche, I’m given to understand, especially lately and especially in comic books. In any case, RP1’s is a doozy.

There are, it must be said, strong resemblances between Soda Pop Soldier, Ready Player One, and Snow Crash, to the point where I wonder if Nick Cole didn’t look at Ready Player One and think “I can do that, but better!” and Ernest Cline didn’t look at Snow Crash and think “I can do that, but worse!” (Both succeeded.) In any case, Soda Pop Soldier is better than Ready Player One in every single way (but three), so let’s list a few!

  • Soda Pop Soldier has MUCH better action scenes. Given that—like RP1—they primarily take place in a virtual world, Cole does a great job of presenting the stakes (much better than Cline does). We care about PerfectQuestion’s real life struggles, so we care if he wins his battles in his futuristic Call of Duty clone.
  • SPS has a more textured world. WarWorld, and the rest of the “Internet” makes more sense than RP1’s OASIS ever could.
  • The SPS romance subplots—and there are two—are both more real, more actual than anything found in RP1.
  • SPS has a villain WHO’S A FREAKING VILLAIN, instead of a pile of unconvincing cliches. (Basically, RP1’s villain is a shallow Carter Burke clone.)
  • SPS’s “in jokes” aren’t gratuitous, shallow, or ubiquitous. They’re organic parts of the story—just peep the Aliens sequence.

Both Soda Pop Soldier and Ready Player One have in-world virtual worlds the protagonists must quest through, and the person and personality of the creators of those worlds matter a great deal to how these sequences play out.

When comparing Soda Pop Soldier’s Wastehavens to RP1’s OASIS, Wastehavens wins hands down, whether we’re talking about the world as a game world or the histories of the creators. The story of Wastehavens’ creator laboring to bring his vision into existence, only to see it corrupted, is far more poignant and relatable than RP1’s unthinking cut-and-paste of Walter White’s backstory. (See? I can do references too! Though mine are perfectly apt, and somewhat subtle.) Cole knows people, and it shows.

As for the three places Ready Player One beats Soda Pop Soldier

  • Both books have uninspiring titles, but RP1’s at least evokes nostalgia, so has a slight edge.
  • The buildup to RP1’s climax felt more epic than SPS’s. There were literally world shaking stakes in both, but you felt it more in RP1.
  • RP1 is a more commercially friendly work. SPS is more real, but at the cost of including things mainstream audiences will find jarring (most especially in The Black). By way of analogy, RP1 is a slutty Pop Tart’s hit album (Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”, for example) to SPS’s raw, personal, wrenching Heavy Metal concept album. The second may be better, in a musical, thematic, and moral sense, but the first is more pleasing to the ear, so just sells more. (Most of Cole’s books share this non-commercial sensibility, except his “Galaxy’s Edge” series, coauthored with Jason Anspach. Not coincidentally, they’re also his most successful works, AFAIK. Interested in seeing if he ports that almost-commercial sensibility back over to his solo books.)

RP1 is superficial and artificial, a plastic world filled with plastic androids interacting with other plastic androids, in a way vaguely reminiscent, yet utterly unlike, real human beings. It has the same relationship to reality as the sex doll Wade bangs has to a real woman. It isn’t real, even for the attenuated notion of “real” that applies to fiction.

For all its squalor and nastiness, Ready Player One is the product of a mind that’s fundamentally ignorant of the Real World. Soda Pop Soldier has some shocking stuff, but it’s wholly human and fundamentally REAL.


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

66 Comments
  • Anthony says:

    For what it’s worth, I think Nick Cole may be the most surperversive writer in the business, even more than John C. Wright. He “gets” it. Even his pulpy works like his Apcalypse Wyrd series have moments of transcendence.

  • Gaiseric says:

    One can only be angry at what’s been stolen from us for so long before one has to start rebuilding.

    And I think Galaxy’s Edge is a deliberate attempt to rebuild something that he loved from his childhood. It shows in the result.

  • Andy says:

    There was a short documentary a couple of years back about unearthing a bunch of old Atari cartridges from a landfill, based on the old urban legend that the E.T. video game was so awful Atari just dumped all of their stock in a hole in the desert. Cline decided to attend by driving up in a DeLorean with a big E.T. plush toy in the passenger seat and generally came across as every bit the insufferable douchebag his books seem to indicate he is.

  • evan says:

    I tried at first to listen to the audio book. It was narrated by Wil Wheaton, so that was in and of itself an awful experience. I managed an hour’s worth before giving up.
    And I agree, too, that just mentioning stuff from the past in order to drum up nostalgia is vapid.
    But the worst part of the book to me was the writing. So many adverbs. SO MANY ADVERBS. My god, this is writing 101, you do not use adverbs. You don’t have to spoon feed your audience that much.

  • Sqt says:

    There was so much hype over this book that when I tried to read it I couldn’t fathom what everyone was fussing over. Glad I’m not the only one.

  • “One MMO—OASIS—becomes the OS for everything and replaces the Internet?”

    Sounds like a rip-off of Summer Wars, but that it made more sense; it’s implied that OZ is what they have instead of the internet, not that it replaced it.

  • Emmett Fitz-Hume says:

    I could have predicted your review of Ready Player One by the people who recommended it to me.

    So, of course, I avoided it when they did. All the right people enjoyed it after all.

    I have to admit to a morbid curiosity in regards to his other novel, “Armada”.

    has anyone tried that yet?

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      Won’t. Not after RP1.

    • JD Cowan says:

      My friend did. It’s a rewrite of The Last Starfighter.

      When you have nothing to look forward to in the future that you and only relive the past to fill that hole you get these sorts of stories.

      The surprising vitriolic reaction to the trailer for this movie surprised me. I didn’t think people were finally tired of these sorts of pandering stories.

      • Emmett Fitz-Hume says:

        Dammit. The Last Starfighter?! That’s one of my all time favorites! Now I know I’ll never go near it.

        “But I’m just a kid from a trailer park!”

        “If that’s all you think, that’s all you’ll ever be.”

        When I was 8, those were just the words I needed to hear at just the right time.

      • deuce says:

        “Armada is a poor man’s Last Starfighter. It’s Scalziesque in the way it rips off the original.”

        Because what we need is another Scalzi.

    • Andy says:

      I checked it out from the library last year. I daresay it’s actually worse than Ready Player One.

    • Skyler says:

      Armada is a poor man’s Last Starfighter. It’s Scalziesque in the way it rips off the original.

  • MrMe says:

    Skimmed armada. Skipped most of it. Don’t think I missed much, but don’t remember much of it anyway. i do remember thinking it had some world building and plot chasms

  • Xavier Basora says:

    So is Ready player one a good book on HOW NOT to write a novel?
    I wonder him many more worthy authors were rejected in favour of his books? Thankfully independent publishing is an option
    xavier

  • Robespierre says:

    As far as the leftist clichés go, I thought the Christian bashing near the beginning was a bit annoying. As far as I can remember, the little old lady was the only Christian in the entire novel. And she was sweet but utterly stupid, gullible, something, because Christianity is absolute nonsense. But where is the argument? It is stupid because I say so, says the teenager.

    I wrote and submitted for publication a post-apoc short story with a lot of 80s – the days of my youth – pop culture references several months before RP1 was first published. Two more years went by before I had ever heard of RP1.

    The hook of my story centers on two grown men sitting on a tattered couch playing video games in the midst of utter clutter – empty bottles, unwashed plates etc. Are they losers? Living in Mom’s basement? Manboys?

    No. As it turns out they are the badest mofos in the village. The muscle-bound (with Conan or Tarzan muscles) brothers, twins, are the heroes and protectors of their people – they just happen to relax with vid games, TV shows, movies and porn that they have scavenged from our sleazy society.

    Keep both fists swingin’ Big Daddy!

    • john silence says:

      His site has its fair share of it, too. If you check his bio, you will be instantly bombarded with “Muh Bible belt”, “muh science-hating, fun-hating Christians”… Actually, most of that site reads like something written by a SomethingAwful member circa 2001-2. Unfortunately, same thing applies to his novel.

      • Andy says:

        He actually does attempt a positive portrayal of a Christian in Armada, although I found didn’t find it very convincing.

  • Man of the Atom says:

    With Cole you get adventure, comedy, retro homage, horror, and uplifting events … often all neatly woven into a single book.

    RP1 by contrast is one long sour note.

    Props to both SPS and Ctrl-Alt-Revolt by Nick Cole.

  • Hooc Ott says:

    Three or four times i have tried to read RP1 and stopped.

    Here is how it always goes:

    Ok its the 80s
    Whatever
    Annoying but i can read past it
    Global Warming!!!!

    Throw book against wall.

    Note that global warming comes up in the first or second page.
    Yup that is how far i get.

  • Rick Derris says:

    Vox Day had a post called the “Gamma Protagonist” on one of his blogs and the Gamma Protagonist EXACTLY matches the protagonist of RP1. I think there was a glitch in the space-time continuum and the Gamma Prog list appeared on Cline’s desk before he started writing RP1.

    This review was spot-on. RP1 was also far too long. Cline could’ve cut out 70+ pages of the book. Instead he meandered far too much.

  • Jill says:

    I read RP1 years ago. Although the basic plot was okay enough to finish, the only impression it left on me was, gosh, I feel really pandered to with five 80s geek references every sentence. I prefer books with a little more substance.

  • Aaronrod77 says:

    Snobs… Someone who hated something this thoroughly needs to get laid.

  • Vlad James says:

    I had no desire to ever read Ready Player One as it represents everything I hate about pandering “nerd culture”. Same reason I despised the Scott Pilgrim comic book and the equally horrendous movie.

    Yeah, I get all the references. Yeah, I loved those old movies, television shows, and games from the 80s and 90s, too.

    Simply referencing them in a crappy story with a loser protagonist I loathe doesn’t make me automatically like the work. In fact, the pandering makes me hate it even more.

  • The problem that I have with Cyberpunk is that the technological projections became obsolete so quickly that it had to become a parody of itself while the movement still had some literary momentum. Nostalgia is all that is has left to it. Writing a Cyberpunk novel today would be like trying to write a thrilling adventure about travelling to the moon and rescuing a moon maiden from the evil selenite overlords. Since we know that the technology envisioned in the 1980s doesn’t work the way that thought it would, it has to be either retro-kitsch or some flavor of fantasy with a veneer of pseudoscience.

    • Alex says:

      Reminds me of Limitless: “Contrary to what you’ve seen in the movies, hacking is actually really boring and tedious, so here’s a montage of cute dogs doing tricks.”

    • Kevyn Winkless says:

      I don’t know – I think Morgan’s Altered Carbon series does a creditable job of reframing cyberpunk, complete with much of the anti-corporatist and socio-economic inequality dimensions. There are certainly parts of those books that are overtly political and thus sour things somewhat, and the rather grim nihilistic tone means it will likely be a love it or hate it novel for most, but the blending of hardboiled detective action with imagined high technology works.

      Likewise, I think the way Gibson has retreated into the sociological with his cyberpunk is another way forward.

      I think as well you can read some of Peter Watts work as being essentially what happens when you rewrite cyberpunk with biotech.

      The old “hardcore” stuff of the 80s though? yeah, that definitely wouldn’t work as is today, and I can see your reading in that case. I definitely think the time of neon on the rain-greased streets of Big City style 80s era cyberpunk has passed.

  • Jeremiah hitchers says:

    The book isn’t trying to be original, it is an amalgamation of pop references from the 80’s because that is literally what the entire plot is about! A game based on some dude who wanted to bring back the 80’s. Is it that hard to understand?

  • Wally says:

    This book is for adults that lived in the 80’s…. Not turd baby millennials that don’t get it. I read that book and couldn’t put it down. I wanted to see the next 80’s reference and the next and the next. Turd baby millennials are exactly that….. Turd babies, you lame asses have to over break down everything to show how awesome you are. Go sit in your corner of depressing snot, this movie will be Epic and the book already was epic. Turd babies suck

    • David says:

      turd baby…Turd baby…Turd babies…lame asses…depressing snot…Turd babies suck.

      I distilled your post down to its essential meaning.

    • Sqt says:

      I graduated high school in the 80’s and still found it tedious. Why are so many people blinded by nostalgia?

      • Rick Derris says:

        I completely agree. I was a kid in the 1980s.

        Who the hell made Ernie Cline the “expert” on ATARI and the 1980s?

        • Ayup. Another ’80s era media consumer. There was a lot to love from the A-Team to the Equalizer, the Muppets… Most of the enertainment industry hadn’t completely consumed its cultural capital seed corn.

          That said.,. RP1 was a vapid read it once novel, with a really repulsive hero (at least from a female perspective) and a totally clueless rendering of MMORPG game play that anyone who played things like Ultima Online, Everquest, WOW, City of Heroes, etc. etc. etc. would find annoying.

          Soda Pop Soldier was the bomb.

  • Nate says:

    I enjoyed RP1. That aside.. what’s with the massive amount of hate and vitriol here? You know I didn’t like the transformer movies but I’ve never published an article about how much I hate it and how awesome I am for not being a fan. F*ckin move on for christ sake!.. you know, before you snap and start murdering people.

    • David says:

      You know I didn’t like the transformer movies but I’ve never published an article about how much I hate it and how awesome I am

      Maybe you should. Please go write an article about how much the transformer movies suck, and about how awesome you are. Then post a link to the article here.

      I am quite intrigued to compare the ratio of how long you are able to talk about the transformers versus how long you will talk about yourself.

  • Dustin says:

    Wow, between the author of the blog and all the commentors, there is a disturbing amount of people who seem to take joy in smelling their own farts.

    RP1 is a great story. Stop trying to disect every inch of it, it really only reflects on the uninspired reader you really are.

    For those of you asking about Armada, read it, form your own opinion! Wouldn’t that be a good change of pace for some of you?

    I’ll leave this unecredited qoite here.

    “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

    • David says:

      “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

      I am laughing at how stupid you are. If you had read the article instead of just the title, you would have discovered that Daddy Warpig read the book…he did investigate…which is why he holds the book in contempt.

  • Shigg says:

    Jealousy much?

    RP1 was awesome, if you’re actually a nerdy scifi fan, and if you disagree you are stupid.

    • Billy says:

      I don’t understand all of this hate for the book. Its an epic story that was entertaining all the way through. And many people agree. But hey, even if people are taking time out of their day to write an article bashing RP1, it’s still giving it publicity. I’m sure Ernie is
      fine with that.

    • David says:

      if you disagree you are stupid.

      Maturity is being able to accept that something you dearly love is nothing special or even mediocre to other people. Children learn this as part of growing up, provided they didn’t grow up in an echo chamber.

    • Pat D. says:

      Serious or parody?

  • Sodwiz18 says:

    Yeah…. Freedom of speech, let’s bash everything we can, because…. Y not? We can…. If you read it great, you’re entitled to your opinion. But, opinions are like a$$holes. Everyone has one. I for one enjoined for what it was, a book (entertainment)

  • You are a moron. If you were given a map to buried treasure, you’d say “how outdated and cliche” instead of hunting for the treasure. Do you know what cynicism is? Your life and every thought in your mind.

  • Emmett Fitz-Hume says:

    And I see the fans have arrived!

  • Sweetdeane says:

    This article seems to be pandering to the hordes of people that have jumped on the wagon of hate for this book/movie. Click bait for haters.

  • Eliott says:

    Oh look, a bitter nobody hating on something beloved by millions. If your faves were so great they would have gotten their own movie.

    • David says:

      If your faves were so great they would have gotten their own movie.

      Wrong.

      Great novels can almost never be successfully transitioned to film, the change in medium usually requires changing the story. But shlock can be converted over without much difficulty.

    • Rick Derris says:

      >>>If your faves were so great they would have gotten their own movie.

      So you’re saying that Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” wasn’t great because it wasn’t made into a movie? I guess that means all of Asimov’s short stories sucked. Same with Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion.” And “Johnny Mnemonic” was a shit movie so 1980s William Gibson must be a shitty writer.

  • Jill says:

    People seem to be very emotional about this book. Fascinating.

  • Robespierre says:

    I read RP1 twice and really enjoyed it – the first time around, I devoured it in a weekend – probably because of all of the 80s stuff since I was a teenager in the 80s. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy being insulted by all of the leftist hate directed at people like me.

    It’s like everything else in the entertainment world – the left owns Big Publishing, Hollywood, TV, academia, and most of the major newspapers and magazines. Anyone on the right who watches movies or reads current fiction will most likely get the middle finger in their face. I’ve come to expect it. As a mostly white but part Algonquin, male, heterosexual, blue collar, God-loving Southerner, I have an enormous target on my back, through a sheer accident of birth (except for the God part perhaps). But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

    I read Cline’s poetry book, and it was downright insulting. He writes about murdering a “white trash woman” in a movie theater, a dope-headed Jesus roommate who turns tap water into Heineken, and us men who are all a bunch of selfish stupid clods who refuse to give women oral sex. Wow.

    Cline can bend over and shove his head up his own Flux Capacitor as far as I’m concerned.

    Sure, I can enjoy a man’s story (to a point) and still very much despise his horrible politics and his blatant hatred for people like me and my family.

    And politics matter. As soon as I found out that Scalzi donates his money to Planned Murderhood, I refused to buy any of his books.

  • Rick Derris says:

    I wonder if Ernie Cline will insist that Wil Wheaton must appear in the movie version of the book. Wil will FINALLY get that call back that he’s been expecting since 1995.

  • Wheats says:

    There is a reason these books are made into movies or series ( Dark Tower,Under The Dome, RPO ext). These ASSHOLES from the writer all the way down, change them into SHIT! They deserve the box office bombs. How about making it like the F’n book!!! Egomaniacs

  • JonM says:

    Daddy, did you know this was going to happen?

  • Skyler says:

    Neo-Tolkien-The Return of the Secret Kings.

  • Matt Robinson says:

    I have yo ask a question of the author here. Do you begin reading all ‘fantasy books’ and try and mould them to reality? Numerous times in your article I read how unbelievable it was that the oasis took over as the default operating system. Do you go to a Xmen movie and point out how obsured that humans would mutate in that way, or perhaps star wars and point out how obsured a light safer is? You must be an absolute joy to watch a movie with. Perhaps you did not have a childhood, and that explains your complete lack of imagination. I want you to do me a favour, just once. Try and do as they say. Suspend your Disbelief. You may even enjoy it. I get you are too young to get the 80s references. You did not grow up in an email where being a ‘geek’ was looked down upon, and instead grew up in this era, where now it is cool. Well, sorry to say, the 80’s were a time where geek culture was looked down upon. Now that it is cool, sorry for taking a minute of your oh so precious blogging time, but wait, no one even asked you.

    Just my 2 cents

    • David says:

      I have…a question. Numerous times in your article I read how unbelievable it was that the oasis took over as the default operating system

      Next time you want to ask a question, try condensing your verbiage to something less than fourteen sentences. I think you can do it if you cut out all your whining, your pouting, your posturing, and your preening. In short, keep your butt-hurt to yourself and just ask your question.

      FYI, he pointed out the OS implausibility once, not numerous times. That was one item of six bullet points, each of which is a problem with the story.

      But congratulations, you actually attempted to logically address a point made in the article, which is far more than any other fan of Ready Player One who commented here has done.

    • jic says:

      “I get you are too young to get the 80s references.”

      I’m pretty sure he remembers the ’80s. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he remembers a sizable chunk of the ’70s too.

  • El Bearsidente says:

    The only thing I can say about RP1 is that the author obviously never played an MMO and has a level of understanding of the internet (and its technology) similar to that of a politician, aka none at all.

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