Ready Player One, by Earnest Cline; a Rantview

This isn’t a review; it’s a rant combined with a review. A rantview, so to speak.

As for the book, I enjoyed it. It had some problems, but it was a quick, fun read, and well-worth the time, especially for anyone familiar with the 80s, either through experience or interest.

No, this is more about the whole 80s thing, and how, in my not-so-humble opinion, I feel as though Cline has co-opted my decade, and it’s a decade he’s not really entitled to.

Lemme ‘splain….

I can only speak for myself, but when it comes to pop culture, I think my most formative years were from high school freshman (14) until I graduated college (just shy of 22). For me, those years ran from 1979 until 1987. That’s about as 80s as you can get.

If you accept my hypothesis about the most influential formative pop culture years, Cline missed out.

I’ll abuse a quote from The Dark Knight:

Oh, you think the 80s is your ally, you merely adopted the decade. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the 90s until I was already a man; by then, it was nothing to me but grunge and re-treads! The 80s betray you, because they belong to me.

Cline was born in 1972, which makes him a mere 8 years old at the start of the decade. He didn’t hit 14 until 1986, and topped out at 22 in 1994. So clearly he straddles the line between being a child of both decades.

And Ready Player One shows it.

While he may have an abiding interested in 80s pop culture, and an impressive collection of artifacts, it’s obvious he wasn’t there at the beginning. His knowledge comes from research and interest and second hand exposure, and because of this it sometimes feels flimsy.

But I was there….

Rush? We 80s nerds (we weren’t called geeks then) weren’t into Rush. Rush didn’t become king of the nerd bands until all the nerds grew up and hit their 40s and started a Pandora station they could feel nostalgic over.

We were into Devo, A-Ha, the B52s, Flock of Seagulls, Adam and The Ants, Echo and the Bunneymen, Roxy Music, and Soft Cell. When we wanted some rock it was the Pretenders, Pat Benatar, the Clash, U2, the Police, XTC, Talking Heads. What about the Dead Kennedys and the Ramones? Where’s the King of Pop? I wasn’t into him, but boy his album Thriller, released in 1982, was a force at the time and remains so today.

And how can you even talk about the music scene of the 1980s without mentioning Bowie or the birth and undeniable influence of MTV and the music video?

When you were a teenager in the early 80s and one of your friends had cable and you could watch MTV… well, that’s what you did. Between playing games on the Commodore 64 and Atari 2600 that is. MTV was more than a trend, it was a new view of the world that spoke directly to us. Hungry Like the Wolf, Shock the Monkey, Take On Me, Money for Nothing, Sweet Dreams, Whip It, I Ran…. and that’s not even the tip of the tip of the tip of the ice burg.

There’s no way to describe the influence MTV and music videos had on my generation. But if, like Cline, you didn’t hit your music stride until the later half of the decade, you would have missed that. MTV was commonplace by the time Cline came along.

I want my MTV….

In my dorm in college, we had a common room with a TV. The TV played three things: MTV, Late Night with David Letterman, or Miami Vice. In 1984, Miami Vice redefined style. Like MTV and music videos, its cultural influence at the time was overwhelming and undeniable.

My school’s computer “lab”? A single TRS-80 with a tape drive. My first home computer? An Atari 800 with 16K. My second computer was a Commodore 64. And no mention of the Apple II? I can’t count the hours lost playing Warp Factor on my Dad’s machine. SSI Goldbox games? Ultima? Wizardry? Planetfall? Come on…. Sure, he mentions Zork, but that was the gateway drug that led us to all the rest… which he would have known if he had been there at the start.

No Vans, who hit their stride with the black and white checkered slip-on, riding on the coat-tails of the explosion of skate-boarding?

And, yes, we still watched cartoons. He-Man and the Master of the Universe? Blackstar? Tom and Jerry? Thundercats?

And although Star Trek the original series (it wasn’t called that then) had been canceled more than a decade before, it was in re-runs all the time. It was still so popular it spawned 5 movies (4 if you discount 1979’s Star Trek: The motion Picture) in the 80s. And no mention of Khan? The greatest science fiction villain of any decade.

What about books? Piers Anthony was everywhere. My friends and I were devouring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and Elric of Melnibone (yes, I know they were written before the 80s, but sword and sorcery hit its heyday in the 80s). There was also the invention of cyberpunk and the cutting edge writings of  Gibson and Sterling (The Artificial Kid) and Brunner. And Adams and May and Wolfe and OSC (before we knew he was a homophobe).

Movies? He mentions a few, but not the juggernauts of 80s nerd-dom. Altered States, Blade Runner, Terminator, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Tron, The Thing, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi, The Last Starfighter, Escape from New York, Scanners, Videodrome, Vision Quest, Gotcha!.

Sword and sorcery peaked in cinema as well with The Beastmaster, Hawk the Slayer, Dragonslayer, Excalibur (he mentions that one; also–trivia: Patrick Stewart had a role), Conan the Barbarian, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Deathstalker… heady times for a kid who grew up on Burroughs’ Mars books, Howard’s Conan, and the Thieves’ World series.

I lived through the death and birth of media. I saw 8-tracks die and cassettes born, and I saw the torch passed from cassettes to CDs in the same decade. The VCR was a wonder. We had a copy of Papillon I must have watched 30 times. The first movie I ever saw on cable in my own house was 1973’s Enter the Dragon.

Obviously there’s no way to cover all of the 80s, but for the nerd who both ushered in the decade and ushered it out, it feels as though Cline missed the first half of the show.

By the time he came along, the 80s were already past the hump and starting down the other side.

So if you’re interested in the 80s, or a child of the 80s, read it. It’s fun. But you might, like me, feel as though you came away from reading the travelogue of a tourist and not the diary of a resident.

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