“The power of love is a curious thing.” – Huey Lewis and the News, Back to the Future Soundtrack, Chrysalis Records, 1985
Being an author, I think that I digest novels in a different way than most people. I still immerse and lose myself in the world of the author’s creation. I suspend disbelief, block out reality, and do my best to visualize what the author is writing about. However, when I read a novel there is also a part of me that is searching for the secret. Just like Cline’s protagonist in Ready Player One, I’m digesting every piece of entertainment with the secondary purpose of finding the hidden meaning that sits in the spaces between. I can’t simply allow the author to tell his/her story while I sit back and enjoy it. I have to be the jerk that interrupts them to ask a question that I refuse to save until they have finished. I don’t just want to know what happens in the story, I also want to know what the author was trying to evoke from the reader with each decision they made. And in the case of an author like Cline, who has found commercial success, I want to know how he hooks the reader.
It wasn’t hard to find the secret to Cline’s success. Ready Player One has you invested from the very beginning by using a very sly tactic: it will find something you love and use that to make you care. Namely, Cline uses nostalgia to pull at our heartstrings. Over the course of the first twenty pages, handfuls upon handfuls of entertainment references from the 1980s are slung our way because the book takes place in a futuristic society that is obsessed by that specific decade. Hmm, a society obsessed with the 1980s; why does that sound so familiar?
In truth, the majority of our society will forever be in love with the days of their youth. A time when life was simpler, when we still held to our romantic ideals and thought that the future held nothing but the promise of sunny days. It just so happens that if you fall between the ages of 25-45, chances are you have a bright shiny memory of the 1980s. If you fall into that age group, chances are you have a soft spot for the Super Mario Brothers, Star Wars movies, and the music of Duran Duran. Cline uses this nostalgia against you, and it works beautifully. Hundreds of references from the 1980s are woven deftly into his novel. Readers are bound to have very positive memories associated with many of them.
Now don’t get me wrong, Ready Player One is not all gimmick. It’s a fun read, with pace that is rarely lagging. Cline has a knack for science fiction prophecy that at least harkens to Orwell, and he managed to give an ending that was befitting his video game fetish. As a reader, I thoroughly enjoyed Ready Player One, and would recommend it to anyone. It is deserving of the accolades it has received.
Where Ready Player One truly finds it success though, is in the marriage of a good story with the power nostalgia has over all of us. In my hours away from the book, I found myself purchasing old movies I hadn’t seen in years, listening to my favorite 80s songs as I drove to work. I even downloaded a new ring tone, the theme music to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, one of my favorite video games from my youth. My wife asked me: “Are you twelve?” And yes, she hit the nail on the head. Prompted by the reading of Ready Player One, I wanted to be twelve again. I wanted to watch Star Wars, play video games, and jam out on a frickin’ Keytar. I wanted to hold aloft my magic sword and say, “By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!”
As I stepped back from my wife’s comment and thought about it, I was amazed at how powerful nostalgia could be. Nostalgia had me spending money on things I didn’t need, and totally geeking-out. And it felt gooooood, like super-villain laughing about a can’t-miss plan to take over the world good. And that’s how I knew I had learned a secret to Cline’s success. I put a little sticky note on the writing portion of my brain.
Pairing a good story with nostalgia… that’s the power of love.