Once, I was invited to a really big birthday party. I’ll pause while you shake your head in disbelief, but hey, on occasion I slip past the deflector shields and make it onto a guest list. It was a big crowd, a surprise party, and I didn’t know most of the people there. I arrived alone and a little early (NERD ALERT), and the people that I did know that were attending hadn’t gotten there yet. So, rather than stare at the wall or eat all the tiny stuffed peppers out of anxious boredom, I struck up a conversation with a guy standing near me who also seemed a bit at loose ends (but it’s possible he was just eyeing the peppers too). After a quick exchange confirming exactly when we were supposed to yell ‘SURPRISE’ at the guest of honor, he started telling me how he spent his day, which had been a glorious stretch of hours during which he’d put some new parts on his motorcycle. He was really excited. He pulled out some pictures. Several pictures, in fact, of the bike before he’d put the new parts on, pictures of the parts themselves, and pictures of the bike after the parts had been added. As he warmed to his topic, he described the motorcycle parts in detail and why they mattered so much to his overall motorcycle experience. I tried to ask meaningful questions about what he was sharing, but my motorcycle knowledge is limited to the words “motorcycle” and “crotch rocket”, so I didn’t have much to contribute. Seventeen minutes after I’d started talking to this person, he didn’t know my name, but I knew every detail about his motorcycle transformation arc. Also, by this point, most of the tiny stuffed peppers were gone because the other people at the party knew a good appetizer when they saw it. We finally wrapped it up when we had to hide, a critical step in staging a surprise.
While it’s true that I don’t speak motorcycle, I didn’t need to in order to see that my party partner was sharing his passion. Everyone has their own thing, a thing that makes us so excited and eager that people will run if they see you getting fired up about it. Nobody in their right mind will talk to me about books, for instance. I’ve never gone as far as pulling out pictures of books when I talk about them but I’m not saying that won’t ever happen. (Unrelated note: follow Bookreasons on Instagram to see some dreamy pictures of books!) It’s one thing to verbally firehose everyone in your immediate vicinity with all of the ways you enjoy your favorite thing. It’s another thing entirely to make it a condition of any human interaction. There’s a thin line between enthusiasm and obsession, but you’d never prove that by the immersive Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.
Ready Player One is Ernest Cline’s love letter to 80s geek and pop culture. Wait-strike that. Ready Player One is Ernest Cline’s ticker tape parade celebrating 80s geek and pop culture, complete with Tshirt guns and confetti cannons. Set in a grim future on an overpopulated Earth depleted of natural resources, Ready Player One tells the story of a society that has moved from the exterior to the interior. Virtual reality is the standard, with people spending as much time as possible strapped into full body suits logged into in a fantasy universe called OASIS. When the reclusive inventor of OASIS, James Halliday, dies and invites the whole world to compete to inherit his fortune in an elaborate 80s themed video game, the stage is set for some awesome 80s-style scrappy-underdogs-vs-evil-corporate-goliath competition.
You don’t have to be an 80s kid to enjoy this story. Ernest Cline has you covered even if you didn’t spend part of your childhood begging for an ATARI console or getting chased by PacMan ghosts. James Halliday is modeled on America’s Silicon Valley trajectory, a gifted programmer parlaying time spent tinkering with computers in his parents’ basement into a wildly successful industry and stratospheric personal wealth. In the three dimesional world, James is shy and awkward, finding interpersonal interaction painful. Inventing OASIS allows him to make his perfect reality over and over, as he programs planet after planet that recreate the late 70s and and 80s that he grew up in (my personal favorite being an entire planet consisting of video game arcade/pizza joints, and I want to go there because I hate waiting in line to play Tempest). Retreating into OASIS solves all of James’s social problems, but in his isolation, he’s unable to do the one thing that makes a personal passion so fun – share it with people that share his same devotions. Upon his death, he’s finally able to get everyone to come to his playground. What would any of us do if we had the leverage to create the exact world we want, to engage with people in the way that makes us the most comfortable? James Halliday uses his money and influence to share everything he loves on the grandest scale possible.
Ready Player One is currently being turned into a movie by Steven Spielberg. I don’t usually get excited about movie versions of books I love, but OMG. I need Steven Spielberg to direct this 80s themed movie like I need air and regularly scheduled hair color appointments. I NEED it. I need all those 80s references filtered through the guy that gave us so much 80s culture. Interestingly, Steven Speilberg has said in interviews that he will not be referencing his own movies in Ready Player One. I don’t like telling Steven Spielberg how to do his job but he needs to change his mind on that. STAT. He’s going to leave Indiana Jones at the door? The Goonies? Whaaaat?
I suppose while I’m quibbling with Steven Spielberg on his directorial choices, I may as air my one tiny grievance with Ernest Cline. In the avalanche of dazzling 80s references in Ready Player One, there is not one appearance by the Material Girl. No Madonna. At all. I am calling a flag on that play and in the sequel I’d better see a Planet Madonna.
My personal Thanksgiving tradition is to re-read MFK Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me. I hope you get to enjoy your traditions this year. Have a safe & happy Thanksgiving Day!
Photo credit: Richard Corman for Rock Paper Photo