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Ready Player One - Ernest Cline was never much of a gamer--unless the game was Trivial Pursuit. The only video game I ever enjoyed was Frogger, but I wasn't good at it. And until just a couple of days ago, when it came up as a plot point in this particular novel, I had no idea that Pac-Man had 256 levels; I don't hink I ever made it any further than the third. Having said that, I did spend a little time in arcades during my college years, and more often than not during the last couple of decades, I've had a videogame system in my house. In addition, there's no question that I'm a pop-culture addict--movies and TV and music--and I consumed plenty of it during my formative years in the 1970s and 1980s. In more ways than not, Ernest Cline's debut novel, Ready Player One, is written in my language.

Cline's deep understanding and affection for nerd culture was evident in his screenplay for the cult-favorite movie Fanboys, and it fully informs his first novel. The plot momentum of Ready Player One--which is a highly plot-driven novel--relies on a slew of geeky details. Set in a not-too-distant future in which the current recession has yet to end and natural resources have been even further depleted, the characters here are just a few of the millions who choose to spend most of their lives in the virtual reality of the OASIS--so much more than a video game--rather than in the difficult and unappealing real world. Some go into the OASIS with a specific purpose, though; they're "gunters"--a contraction of "egg hunters"--searching for the "Easter egg" that its creator, James Halliday, programmed into it. For years, they've been trying to unravel the puzzles that leads to it, because the first person to find that secret will be the sole heir to Halliday’s fortune...and now that 17-year-old Wade Watts, known within the OASIS as Parzival, has become the first gunter to get within reach of the prize, the OASIS exerts a greater, and more dangerous, allure than ever before.

While there's really no profound statement at the heart of Ready Player One, it's an ambitious novel, largely because it has so much packed into it. It can be risky to reach so far, especially with a first novel, and at times it doesn't quite make it. While I found some of the delights of the novel in its details--for the most part, they are well-chosen and effectively deployed--at times it felt like were just too many of those details, and they threatened to weigh things down, particularly in the audio production (I might have just skimmed some of those sections in print, to be honest.) On the other hand, and particularly when considered in light of Cline's background as a screenwriter, the precision of description makes for very effective world-building, and I appreciated how easy he made it to visualize the story.

I read this in audio; although there were times that I felt that the format unfortunately emphasized some of the weaknesses in the prose and made the novel feel longer than it needed to be, I think it was a good call, and the choice of reader for the audiobook is perfect. Wil Wheaton doesn't just get nerd culture; he's a participant in it, and as a former cast member of a Star Trek series, he's a component of nerd culture. He sounded like he was genuinely enjoying himself, even during some of the less-compelling instances in the story, such as recitations of the the standings in the egg hunt (some of the details I'd have skimmed in a print copy). That enjoyment was contagious. Despite its imperfections, and not just because of the nerdy and period-specific details, I was thoroughly engaged and entertained by Ready Player One