Abuse of power, violence, liberty, gaming and virtual reality: An Appreciation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, the 2012 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear what makes each winner deserve recognition as notable pro-freedom sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society is presenting weekly Appreciations of past award-winners.

Here’s the latest Appreciation for Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, the other 2012 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel:

By Chris Hibbert

Ready Player One
, Ernest Cline’s bestselling first novel, takes place mostly inside a virtual reality/MMORPG, though as usual with the recent spate of books in this genre, the action bleeds back and forth with physical reality.

The setting is pretty familiar: it’s 2044, and the economy has bifurcated into haves and have-nots, and most people seem to spend the bulk of their time in the OASIS.

James Halliday, the billionaire founder of the company that runs the OASIS has died, and has set up a contest inside the system that will determine who gets his company shares, his wealth, and control of the OASIS itself. It turns out Halliday was hugely into eighties trivia, and most of the story involves the main character, Parzival, and his on-line friends finding and devouring movie, music, video game, and science fiction trivia from that decade. If you’re not averse to geeking out on this stuff, it’s a fun romp.

Parzival is the first to find the Copper key, the first step on the quest that Halliday built. Others soon figure out how to backtrack on Parzival’s location which gives them the clues they need to follow on his trail. This starts a race to complete the quest and beat Innovative Online Industries, a company that wants to win the contest in order to exploit OASIS’s business possibilities.

The libertarian element in the story is that the central struggle is over whether the game’s virtual world will be under the control of the main character and his friends or the bad guys, who abuse their power and fail to respect the rights of others. Moreover, some game players, including agents of the bad guys, have no compunctions against murdering rivals or anyone else who gets in their way – one of the most brutal ways that individual rights can be violated.

To the extent that the OASIS is all the reality that matters to most of its denizens, this can be cast as a struggle over governance. The protagonists’ victory is in keeping control over that quasi-government out of the hands of an explicitly rights-denying corporate raider.

Note: This appreciation was excerpted and slightly revised from Chris Hibbert’s initial review of the novel, when first nominated for the Prometheus Award. The review appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of the Prometheus printed quarterly .

Ernest Cline (Creative Commons license. Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Note: Ernest Cline, an American novelist and screenwriter, also co-wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One and followed up his first novel with Armada. He is reportedly writing a sequel to Ready Player One.

* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog:  A 40thAnniversary Celebration and appreciation of the next novel to be recognized with a Prometheus Award: Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema, the 2013 winner for Best Novel.

* See related introductory essay  about the LFS’ 40thanniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.

* Other Prometheus winners:  For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.

* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit volunteer association of libertarian sf/fantasy fans and freedom-lovers.
Libertarian futurists believe cultural change is as or more vital as political change (and often more fun!) in achieving universal individual rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Mike Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been a writer, arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Most recently, Michael won the 2019 Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio (for theater reviews) and Best Arts Reporting (which he’s won seven times). He's written for Reason and Libertarian Review magazines, was a regional columnist for years for Backstage weekly, helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword/essay for the first paperback edition of J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among the books he recommends to inform a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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