In 2012 I wrote what would become my most popular book review on Goodreads: a skewering of Ernest Cline’s (somehow) beloved heap of geek porn, Ready Player One. Despite a six-year cool down period, it remains the most disappointing reading experience of my life. I still hate it with every fiber of my being, and I’ve yet to understand how someone can pay for this book, read all 370+ pages, and then feel anything but embarrassed and sad.
If the point is to re-enact sections of D&D modules and 80s cult classics, then your readers are just getting third-hand retreads of things that aren’t even important to begin with. It’s sort of like when your socially-awkward friend resolutely recounts a super-sweet TV show for you, word for word, and all you can do is just sit there and wait until he’s finished. Pay $20 for that experience and you get Ready Player One.
And what’s worst—no, I haven’t even gotten to the worst part yet—is how the entire thing reeks of elitism. Yes, you read that correctly. This is a book about an overweight, unattractive, lazy, delusional, uber-geek elitist, who believes—truly believes—that his knowledge of 80s trivia makes him superior. And Cline basically affirms this! Some guys buy cars, others put socks down their pants, Cline writes 80s trivia novels.
– from my Goodreads review of Ready Player One
That review is probably the most tactless piece of writing I’ve ever produced. It was pure, unadulterated venom. It felt like Cline had injected me with a poison, and the only way to save myself was to regurgitate it back onto the page. It became something of a passion project for me, saving others from similar afflictions.
But at the same time I was conflicted: was there any virtue in a purely negative review?