Published in 2011, Ernest Cline’s story about a teen’s quest to win the ultimate prize in a virtual reality universe has caught the imagination of geeks worldwide, winning an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association division of the American Library Association and the 2012 Prometheus Award.
The film rights were purchased by Warner Bros. the same day Cline finalised his publishing deal with Random House, one year prior to the novel’s publication. Steven Spielberg signed on to direct in March 2015 for a release date of December 15th, 2017.
And when one reads the book, the appeal of the story as a movie is readily apparent, with clearly defined textbook storytelling elements designed to reach a mass audience. You have a orphaned teenage hero viz. Parzival (a.k.a. Wade Owen Watts) living in a dystopian future Earth, that provides one escape – OASIS, a virtual reality universe created by 80s pop culture/gamer junkie James Halliday.
Upon his death, Halliday bequeaths his entire fortune (over $200 billion) & control over OASIS to the person who solves the riddles he has scattered throughout his creation. After many years, nobody is able to do so, until our protagonist uncovers the first clue which kickstarts the biggest quest in human history.
Alas, at the beginning of the book, our narrator Parzival reveals that he achieved the quest – thereby removing any suspense over his ultimate fate – a mystifying decision. Once the reader is aware of this, it somewhat neutered any concern over whether Parzival would succeed or not. Strange.
As much as Cline is able to fill the plot with details of classic video games and 80s pop culture, he is less skilful at handling the story structure – there are several portions in the book where the tension plateaus completely – and one can barely wait for the action to pick up again.
In addition, the romantic element of the plot was highly cornball and silly — there was not sufficient character development (much of the focus is on gaming and the pop culture references) to make the reader care about the relationship between Parzival and Art3mis.
That all said, Cline’s straightforward prose drove the story forward well & despite the above revelation, the reader is intrigued to find out how Parzival is able to achieve the quest. In that respect, Cline succeeds & conjures a tale that is hugely relevant for our times. And probably prescient as well.
PoP will be following the development of the Ready Player One movie so stay tuned, geeks!