The O-town Scene

December 29, 2011

The O-town Scene - Oneonta, NY

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Atari memories and yearning for human contact By Mel Levine 'Ready Player One,' a novel by Ernest Cline Before I kick off this review, travel with me on a brief vir- tual tour of my bedroom. Poof. You're standing in the center of my worn-out mauve carpet (obviously chosen by my mum, circa 1994). The bed in front of you is coated with exponential, stratified blankets and scattered library books worthy of several geological digs. Upon closer inspection, you realize that the large lump in the center is actually me… fast asleep with my glasses on and my face haphazardly smashed in an open novel (a standard napping-position for me, since I've discovered Er- nest Cline). You tear your eyes away from my tearfully beautiful bespectacled, ginger-haired head and trot over to my book- shelf. Along with a few fiction novels, the shelf also contains some cookbooks (mostly vegan ones which my friends have given me over the years … possibly as a subtle way of saying, "Yo' cooking needs some help, girl,"), some CDs (these are an ancient form of music storage which predate MP3 files), and some very weighty volumes outlining the expansive history of art (which I sometimes use as free weights while I work out). You scratch your head in confusion, abruptly about-face and shake me until I wake up so you can ask, "Where do you keep all the rest of your fiction books, Mel?! You review novels for a newspaper! Don't you own millions of pa- perbacks, you geeky bookworm?" After prying my face out of the novel I was sleeping in (a.k.a. Coming into 2012, as we further our dependence on social media sites, increase our interaction through video games, learn from internet-based sources and choose email or texting over face-to-face interpersonal communication, we are rapidly becoming a virtualized civilization. the one I'm about to review), I would make my point: I always read library books and I very rarely buy my own copies, unless the story completely and wholly blows my mind. Since you're standing in my bedroom, you should have already noticed this place has reached its maximum capacity. Every nook is crammed with my massive acrylic paintings, dinosaur figu- rines, acoustic guitars, and a bed, so there isn't exactly room in here for a bibliotheca. What I am trying to say is this book is a big deal because I am actually going to purchase a personal copy. I have finally read some science-fiction worth owning and putting on my bookshelf so I may bask in its brilliance (or better yet, so I may stay up late devouring it and then fall asleep on it, as you saw me do earlier.) The new novel I am obsessed with is called, '"Ready Player One",' by Ernest Cline. You might remember Cline from his well-known slam poem performance of, "Dance, Monkeys, Dance," among other works embraced by pop-culture com- 18 O-Town Scene Dec. 29, 2011 mentators and fanatics worldwide. "Ready Player One" _ or RPO, as I have fondly dubbed it _ takes place in the futur- istic 2040s, when virtual reality becomes everyone's reality. By means of eye-visors and sensor-gloves, most people can access and interact within a computerized environment called the OASIS. The planet Earth falls into neglect as its people become more concerned with their avatar's contrived experi- ence, rather than their body's physical experience in the real world, similar to the conundrum faced by the main protagonist in James Cameron's film "Avatar." The plot of RPO centers around a contest organized by the OASIS software and game designer, billionaire James Halliday _ an eccentric 1980s enthusiast. After Halliday's death, the world learned that his money would not be left to an heir, but won through a series of quests within the virtual world of Hal- liday's OASIS. Hidden within the many, many synthetic soft- ware-based planets, are three keys with corresponding gates. The first avatar to cross through all the gates and find Halli- day's so-called "easter egg," or crowning trophy, would inherit an unfathomable fortune and control all of OASIS … a prize which would become coveted by many OASIS users, including almighty corporate clans, who hunt for the egg without any success. Years tick by and egg hunters practically lose in- terest in the contest completely, until a self-proclaimed geek and comput- er hacker named Wade Watts final- ly stumbles upon the first puzzle. Wade's further success within the hunt becomes increasingly dependent on his knowledge of Halliday's favorite 1980s media indulgences and tech-related knowledge. "Ready Player One" is epic for many reasons. Apart from be- ing incredibly well-written and witty, it accurately captures the best pop-culture and internet lingo from the turn of the twentieth century. The wonderful movies, video games and music that so many of us love were all recycled and reused in a new adven- ture. Cline's novel lets you re-discover "Blade Runner," "Star Wars," "Monty Python," "They Might Be Giants," "Dungeons and Dragons," "Pac-Man" and "Atari." You might even per- haps learn to love some new cultural relics. Additionally, Cline's depiction of a futuristic virtual existence is compelling. Coming into 2012, as we further our dependence on social media sites, increase our interaction through video- games, learn from internet-based sources and choose email or texting over face-to-face interpersonal communication, we are rapidly becoming a virtualized civilization, just like the world in RPO. Everything that once required you to leave your home can now be completed without opening your front door (online dating, online shopping, online learning, online employment, etc.) Ironically, it even relates to your reading experience. Are you going to access a hard-copy of this book or download an e-book of it? Are you reading this article in a tangible copy of the O-Town Scene or through a wi-fi connection? Perhaps Cline's neo-noir descriptions in RPO are somewhat inevitable. Whether we realize it or not, our lives may in fact be a life-long video game. Never has a novel made me so unbelievably proud to be a geek, while simultaneously motivating me to turn my computer off, silence my phone, ignore the television, quit my game of Zelda (ah, but not before saving my progress!), and just go talk to people in the real world. Despite the grandeur that technol- ogy has to offer, this novel points out how useless it all is until you can use it to truly get to know other human beings, face to face. Are you ready for that, player one? Melanie Levine is a recent graduate of SUNY Oneonta. Check out her webisodes at

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