The concept of a novel emulating a video game is—for better or worse—a familiar one in
genre literature nowadays.  Books such as Neal Stepehson’s
Snow Crash, William Gibson
Neuromancer, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One have turned to computer games for
inspiration the way earlier generations of sci-fi writers relied on the space race or Cold War
arms escalation for plot lines.  No surprise here:  science fiction reflects the technological
concerns of each passing generation, and the main thrust of innovation in the current day is in
the fields of media and consumer entertainment.  When I was a kid, young boys wanted to be
astronauts; today they just want to pretend to be astronauts in a video game—and speculative
fiction adapts to this changed reality…or virtual reality, as the case may be.  

Author Cline envisions the ultimate game experience—a virtual
reality simulation so appealing that most people prefer it to their
ordinary, everyday lives. The year is 2044, and global warming,
economic misery and environmental degradation have made
reality a lousy proposition.  Instead, hundreds of millions of people
plug into the Oasis, where they can work, play, learn, socialize or
embark on various adventures.   

At the very start of
Ready Player One, this utopian retreat is sent
into turmoil by the death of the founder and owner of the Oasis,
James Halliday. At his demise, an email is sent to all participants,
announcing a strange competition.  A mysterious “egg” is hidden
somewhere in his simulated universe, and the first person to find it
will inherit Halliday’s entire fortune, including control of the Oasis
itself.  

But at this juncture Cline adds a complication unusual in a futuristic
sci-fi novel:  a fixation on the distant past. Halliday, it seems, was
obsessed with pop culture of the 1980s, and competitors who hope to find the hidden egg must
demonstrate deep expertise in that period if they hope to overcome the many obstacles waiting
for them in the Oasis. The end result is a peculiar novel that adorns its dystopian future-tripping
with generous helpings of nostalgia.

Now comes the Oliver Twist twist:  a poor orphan boy takes an early lead in the egg hunt.
Wade Watts, eighteen-years-old, lives in a decrepit trailer park on the outskirts of Oklahoma
City, and devotes all his spare time to mastering 1980s trivia, and trying to solve the clues
Halliday left behind for participants in the Oasis competition. When Wade triumphs as the first
person to solve the contest’s initial challenge—in a long series of puzzles set up by the
deceased gamester—his avatar’s name shows up on top of an online leaderboard visible to all
other Oasis users.  As a result, a host of other competitors, some possibly friendly while others
are clearly hostile, are on Wade’s trail.

If you were a geek back during the Reagan era, you will find that Cline has provided you with a
pleasant walk down memory lane during the course of Ready Player One.  If you missed out on
that period of time, or lived through it immune to pop culture, you will frequently find yourself
befuddled by the Oasis competition. Cline’s characters constantly look for opportunities to
show off their arcane knowledge about
Dungeons and Dragons, Pat Benatar, Monty Python,
Pink Floyd, Rush,
Schoolhouse Rock!,  Pac-Man, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Star Wars, Def
Leppard and other bits of cultural detritus—good, bad, and ugly—from those now distant days.
I picked up on some of the inside jokes, but no doubt missed many others. If this book does
survive to the year 2040, readers will need an annotated guide of Joycean proportions to
understand its allusions.  

This kind of novel could easily collapse into a tedious exercise in recounting trivia.  But Cline
embeds his 80s nostalgia into a fast-paced adventure story, one that operates on two different
levels.  The contestants in his egg hunt run the risk of having their avatars killed in the Oasis,
but they face even more deadly obstacles in the real world, where they are pursued by
operatives working for an evil corporation that aims at global domination and exploitation. (Don’
t they always!)   Innovative Online Industries has set up a whole business division focused on
winning the competition, seizing control of the Oasis, and imposing its heinous rules (and user
fees) on helpless participants.  

Okay, maybe my comparison with Charles Dickens or James Joyce was a bit of a stretch.  
This novel reads less like stream-of-consciousness and more like a zany blog. The story in
Ready Player One never lags, and if you get lost in the trivia—for example, if old Japanese
anime isn’t your bag—the topic will likely shift dramatically in the next paragraph or, at most, the
next page.  Cline, for his part, is clearly having fun with his story, and it would be a rare reader
who doesn’t respond in kind.   

Fans also have the movie version to look forward to—the film rights to
Ready Player One were
snatched up by Warner Bros. the day after Random House secured the book deal.
Negotiations were heated, with both Paramount and Fox also in the bidding. When the dust
settled, Steven Spielberg signed on as director and producer. Terms weren't disclosed, but it’s
safe to assume that author Cline also won something of an egg hunt with this high concept
novel.  



Ted Gioia writes on music, literature and popular culture. He is the author of ten books. His most recent
book is
How to Listen to Jazz (Basic Books).



Publication date: October 8, 2017
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Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Bacigalupi, Paolo
The Windup Girl

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Bierce, Ambrose
The Complete Short Stories

Blackwood, Algernon
The Complete John Silence Stories

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Brooks, Max
World War Z

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Butler, Octavia E.
Fledgling

Campbell, Ramsey
Demons by Daylight

Campbell, Ramsey
The Nameless

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Cline, Ernest
Ready Player One

Crichton, Michael
Jurassic Park

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Dickens, Charles
A Christmas Carol

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Egan, Jennifer
A Visit from the Goon Squad

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gardner, John
Grendel

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Hendrix, Grady
Horrorstör

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Joe Hill
Heart-Shaped Box

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel
Submission

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen
Carrie

King, Stephen
Pet Sematary

Koja, Kathe
The Cipher

Krilanovich, Grace
The Orange Eats Creeps

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Our Lady of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Lindqvist, John Ajvide
Let the Right One In

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.
Tales

Machen, Arthur
The Great God Pan

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
Wizard of the Crow

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Oyeyemi, Helen
White is for Witching

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Roth, Philip
The Plot Against America

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Straub, Peter
Ghost Story

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stevenson, Robert Louis
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Stoker, Bram
Dracula

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Tryon, Thomas
The Other

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Wallace, Edgar
King Kong

Walpole, Horace
The Castle of Otranto

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Wong, David
John Dies at the End

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Yamada, Taichi
Strangers

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal


Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List



Links to related sites

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Great Books Guide
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Ted Gioia on Twitter

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