Well, I have to say that I spent several hours breathlessly enjoying something that, while pleasurable at the time, made feel cheap and dirty afterward. I just finished reading Ready Player One, which is almost a dystopian science fiction novel, I say almost because, although the novel takes place in a bleak future, it lacks the noir atmosphere and somber view of human nature that makes that genre just about the only type science fiction I regularly enjoy. In Ready Player One, the future is bleak. Although it isn’t spelled out exactly how that happened, it seems to be the result of the growing power of corporations and the impoverishment of much of the population. The one solace the population has, which may also be the reason the world has been allowed to rot the way it has, is an extremely realistic virtual reality.
One of the supposed joys of this book is its nostalgia for 1980s pop culture. This virtual world in which the population spends most of its waking hours was created by a pair of computer programmers who are… ah… just about my age. Yes, I recognized the name Gygax. I had good friends that played D+D and I gave it a try myself a few times. One of my closest friends, I mean close as in “we hit it off almost immediately when I was about sixteen and he wanted to find out who the girl with the pink hair was,” is a Doctor Who fan, a techie (when he’s in the mood) and the person who first introduced me to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by lending me recordings of the original radio program. Me, I like comics. This author thinks he’s a geek? Yeah, then where’s the Elfquest reference? As it happens, he barely hits upon American alternative comics even though the eighties was when they came into their own.
So, does it sound to you as if I’m trying to prove my geek credentials? It probably does, but I need to come clean before we continue. I was never a geek. Do not worry. I will not turn out to have been an early embodiment one of those “cute girls who pretend to be nerds.” I probably barely qualified as a nerd, and I certainly never called myself one.
What’s irritating me about the novel is the concept of the geek itself. Geek is probably the fourth most common word in the book after the, a and and. The excessive growth of geek is something that my friend, the Doctor Who fan, derisively calls geek chic. What I object to is the geek as a ready-made identity and the idea of an identity as being identified by our patterns of consumption.
Ultimately, while the plotting is tight and it’s a fast fun read, the observations about society, humanity and human relationships feel trite and unoriginal, a sort of Science Fiction cotton candy.