Craft thought: Stakes in “Ready Player One”

I just finished Ready Player One, which was certainly a fun book, but which bothered me for a number of reasons. Like the fact that the first fifteen percent (I read it on my Kindle – don’t judge, paperphiles, I’m out of bookshelf space) of the book is exposition and summary, and for that time the main character exhibits almost nothing in the way of unique character traits.

After working through that opening, the pace picks up nicely, and the story moves along well enough, at least until it gets to the end (spoiler alert and all that noise). You see, Ready takes place in both a virtual and a real world, and for most of the action of the book the stakes are: the future of the virtual world, and life or death in the real world. Life or death, for real.

But  as the story in the virtual world approaches its climax, all danger is removed from the real world. The characters we care about are physically safe – and whatever the outcome of the virtual struggle, the physical struggle is over. The real danger, and most of the stakes, are gone.

Other books that dealt with virtual reality, like Neuromancer and Snow Crash, always made sure to keep the stakes in the physical world high, right through to the end.  The climactic battle in Snow Crash didn’t even involve virtual reality, it was all glass knives and cybernetic dogs (okay, dog). Ready Player One‘s seeming eagerness to ensure us that our heroes will be okay made the climax…anticlimactic.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be review. I read a book for fun, a book that’s become immensely popular, and I had a thought about it from a craft perspective (i.e. don’t lower the stakes right before the climax). I just thought I’d share.

How’s that for anti-climax?

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