Book Review: ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

Book Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Genre: Science Fiction / Speculative Fiction

Summary: In 2044 the world is a grim place – overpopulated and under financed, there is little hope for the future of the people living in it. Respite from this world comes through OASIS, a virtual utopia that usurps reality. Here you can attend school, go to work, and be entertained – and this is exactly what Wade does. Like many, he is searching for a way out of his grim and depressing reality, a way that is attainable but virtually impossible; OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden puzzles within OASIS, but that was years ago and no one has found any clues or signs that the prize will ever be won. The prize? Halliday’s fortune and ultimate control over OASIS. When Wade stumbles across and solves the first puzzle, the race to the final prize becomes more than just a game.

Favourite Scene: Too many. I especially loved the nature of the second puzzle! (Go on, read the book.)

Favourite Character: Ogden Morrow – he plays a minor role but he seems like a pretty cool guy.

Review: Love. Love. LOVE. This book was recommended by the ever wonderful Katy and the promise of ’80s pop-culture and gaming references was too good to refuse. And I am so glad I got my hands – and mind – on this book. In typical Stef-style, I churned through the book in a single sitting, absolutely absorbed by the characters, setting, and plot. The narrator’s voice was unique and easy to follow, so much so that it was easy to imagine this was a conversation being had over coffee.

The world constructed in Ready Player One was eerily believable. As is the case with most good dystopian novels set in “the not-too-distant-future”, Cline utilised the harsh realities of the early 21st Century to create a frighteningly plausible future. The book was published in 2011 and this makes the dates and characters especially relevent right now – the setting is 32 years away and the generations depicted in the novel are uncomfortably familiar. Referring to his aunt, Wade laments:

“Her generation had it the hardest. She’d been born into a world of plenty, then had to watch it all slowly vanish. More than anything, I remember feeling sorry for her.”

The characters were it. I could easily imagine some of my gaming friends sitting in and contributing to the conversations that took place in the book, and the ’80s pop-culture references and gaming scene were nerd-tastic.

I’m keeping a vague list of books I’ve reviewed this year that have been added to the “If you read ONE book this year” pile (let’s face it, I’ve said it a few times) and Ready Player One is definitely up there.

Read it. If you’re ready. 😉

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My Favourite Book

Yesterday I made an appearance at a spacious office building to present an application form for a tourist visa to India. Standing there juggling phone, wallet, passport, application, visitor pass, and vain hope of appearing organised, I felt the sudden thrill I have come to associate with travel. Normally when I travel I receive a stamp in my passport on arrival, deposit my passport into my handbag, and move on to the not-so-exciting baggage claim area.

This time it is different. This time I have to hand over my passport well in advance of arriving at the actual destination … and, in order to get to that destination, I need a visa. To get this, I had to leave my passport behind. In a week, my passport will be returned to me and I will have a shiny page displaying the fact that I may enter India – which I will be doing in December. Until next week, however, my passport holder is empty and I feel … well, a little lost.

It’s not like I plan on using my passport this week. In fact, months pass and it sits in my drawer without being touched.

So why did I stare at the woman as she held out her hand for my passport? Why did I grip it tightly before releasing it into her care? Why do I feel lost knowing my passport is not where it should be?

“It’s alright,” she smiled, “you’ll get it back next week.”
“Yes … Yes, of course,” I tried to laugh.
“Unless you need it this week?”
“Oh … no … No, I’m not going anywhere this week.”
“You can pick it up next Tuesday.”
“Next Tuesday,” I repeat, but my eyes are fixed on my passport that now sits at her elbow while she shuffles through my application papers.
“See you then,” she smiles politely.
“Oh. That’s it?” She nods. I slowly depart, trying not to look back.

I stood in the elevator and fiddled with the cover on my phone. As a frequent traveller I have been bombarded with warnings to never leave my passport unattended. Lock it in the safe, sleep with it under your pillow if you can’t do that, never keep it in an external bag that might get stolen or slashed, keep it close to you at all times … Leaving my passport behind – albeit with a reputable organisation for a tourist visa – went against every glaring warning I had ever received.

But that wasn’t the problem, either.

You see, my passport is my favourite book. This is a grand statement for a bookworm to make. When asked what my favourite book is I inevitably reply with a title and author (actually, with several). Previously I have made claim that my favourite book is a blank notebook in which I can write and scribble and articulate ideas. It wasn’t until I was standing in the lobby, my visitor pass returned and my passport somewhere upstairs being processed along with my application, that I realised just how important this tiny little book is to me.

I received my first passport when I was 15* and printed inside was a shiny blue visa permitting me to study for two months at a high school in Milan, Italy. I was so proud of that little book, and truly delighted by the full-page visa that announced to any who would see it that I had been to Italy.

Later, it was stamped in and out of Malaysia. After that, it expired and I had to apply for a new passport – an adult one, no less. I have had it since I was 23.

“Do I get a stamp?” I asked my friend as we waited in line at the Johor Bahru checkpoint.
“I don’t think so,” she replied.
“Oh,” I sighed, flicking through the pages of my passport.
“Ha!” she chortled, “You want a stamp but you already have so many!” I could only laugh and then it was my turn to approach the counter.
Thunk. The official stamped my passport and waved me through. I beamed, tucking my passport into my bag, and strode into Malaysia for the first time since that other long ago trip, documented in a passport that’s now filed in a dusty box in an attic.

I love my passport. I love presenting it as I arrive at a new country, greedily watching the official flick through the pages before deciding where to place the stamp. I love presenting it when I arrive home to Australia, knowing it announces that I’ve been everywhere and now I’m finally home.

Stamp Collection © hjl

My passport gets me into places. My passport gives me freedom to travel, to explore, to learn and to discover – how could I not love this little book of stamped paper?

My passport tells me where I have been and maybe, in a way, helps me have some sense as to where I might be going. Next week it will have a visa announcing to any who see it that I am going to India. After that? I don’t know.

But I’ll get there eventually.

* Actually, I had one as a child and we had a family holiday to Fiji, though I was too young to remember anything about it now.

5 Things I Learnt from Travel

Washington D.C. (USA), Oingt (France), Mexico City (Mexico). Photography by Stef Thompson

Pack Light

The wisest packing advice I have ever received is to lay out everything you think you need, and then halve it. You never need as much as you think – there are plenty of Laundromats to be found and, unless you’re going to the darkest jungles of the Amazon, you can buy an extra bar of soap at most convenience stores. Instead of making room for an extra pair of shoes, make room for souvenirs and memories.

Be Flexible

Perhaps one of the more important lessons for any person to learn in life is the art of being flexible. Flights get cancelled and trains run late, museums have obscure opening hours and hotels aren’t always located as centrally as you thought. Sometimes the best laid plans don’t just go awry, they go completely bonkers. Knowing where you’re going and having accommodation booked (especially in peak seasons) ensures you have a direction to aim for and a bed at the end, but be open to spontaneity. Say ‘yes’ to everything (without compromising your health or integrity) and be open to change. Everything is an opportunity.

Memories Can Buy Happiness

A lot of travellers mind their pennies when they travel and adhere to a strict budget. This can be very restrictive when it comes to being flexible with your plans – you might dismiss an activity because of the cost, or refuse a fancy meal because a tin of tuna for dinner tonight means an extra trip to the museum tomorrow. Spend money on things that delight you – don’t scrimp when it comes to making memories. When is the next time you’ll be in Paris sipping coffee by the Eiffel Tower? When was the last time you hired a car and drove around Sicily? Go home with memories, not spare change.

Tread Softly

Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” This is never more true than when you are travelling. Practise responsible tourism and tread lightly – you are a guest in this country; others actually live here. Some travellers can be inconsiderate, rude, and plain obnoxious – don’t be one of them. Wherever you go, research the country, language, and culture so that you can be open to practices to which you are not accustomed. Celebrate differences and appreciate that every individual has a story to share. When you come home, appreciate the visitors who demonstrate the same respect for your home, your culture, and your language.

A Smile is Worth a Thousand Words

Learn how to say ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language; a genuine smile communicates everything else.

A Notebook and a Pen

I love notebooks. I collect notebooks. I fill notebooks up with scribblings and lists and doodles and thoughts and all kinds of different things. I am never without a notebook and a pen – and if I am, I usually end up buying both “just in case”. As a result, I have pens and notebooks everywhere – a lot of the boxes I packed before coming to Singapore contained notebooks filled with writing over the many years since my constant need to have a notebook and not just a slip of paper was realised.

It was while wandering through a bookstore recently that I marvelled at the selection of notebooks now available. From the humble notepad and the ever-practical exercise book, to beautifully bound journals and decorated covers that are works of art in their own right, there’s a plethora of gathered paper in which one can write.

While I am a fan of writing in Moleskines (I like the quality of the paper and the simplicity in their design), I am constantly amazed by the beautiful notebooks that I can fill up with my very own words. I bought a few notebooks on this particular day and the excitement of turning to the first blank page a few days later was fortunately shared with someone who appreciated my little giggle and gleeful flourish of the pen.

I used to write little stories and tidbits in notebooks all the time – on the train, in between classes, sitting at the bus stop, biding time until a typically late person would arrive … Notebooks and writing journals were once integral to my develop as a writer. Somewhere along the way, however, my writing journal – once more important than remembering my house keys or my wallet – vanished not only from my handbag but also from existence.

Perhaps, as a writer, it is blasphemous to say such things, but as much as I still need my notebooks and I still crave a blank sheet of paper, it is my laptop I now crave when a story idea rushes at me while sitting on the bus.

It is in notebooks that I journal (I’ve tried keeping a digital journal but it just doesn’t work for me) and it is on blank paper that I prefer to write letters. Yes, handwritten letters. Old school, I know. While my letters are sent to my Grandparents, it is through my journals and my letters that I find I am most honest, most open, most … me. So why is it that, when it comes to writing (which I find to be so deeply personal), I prefer screen over paper?

I write very quickly, but I type even faster. And there’s something easy about being able to scroll back and delete and cut and paste and format as I write – it appeals to my inner perfectionist. I can simultaneously write and research – if I can’t remember a detail or a name or a word, I can look it up straight away! There is always a notebook and pen in my handbag, but I find that I write down ideas and plot outlines rather than whole chapters. I like to keep the big stuff for when I’m sitting at my desk with my laptop and keyboard – preferably around 2am with a cup of coffee or glass of red wine.

Rather than keep a journal full of scribblings and reflections on my process, I have used this blog as something of a substitute – I keep inspiration here, write about writing, and generally let my writing goals be known. And yet … something is missing. When I think of times when I’ve written something really good and times when I’ve spent energy and effort on writing that feels whole and complete, a writing journal has been involved.

Have you ever kept a writing journal? How have you found a writing journal supports your work (or doesn’t)?

So, as much as it makes me nervous, I’m realising that my laptop simply isn’t enough. I want more from my writing experience – and so I’m bringing back the writing journal. I better go and buy some more notebooks …