Ernie Cline is living the dream.
Albeit, it's a dream in which Wil Wheaton reads your audio book, you effectively become prom king of Comic-Con 2011, and one of the biggest thrills in getting published is (as you tell your blog readers) getting to re-enact the "Mr. McFly! I think it's your new book!" scene from Back to the Future (which is a great scene because it runs counter to all the advice that you really shouldn't, no matter what, mess with anything should you go back in time and unwittingly and irrevocably alter the future).
This has been where the 39-year-old Cline's life has been headed since the bidding over the book rights and then the movie rights to Ready Player One awesomely happened over several days in June 2010. Before that, Cline was best known (and mostly in nerd circles, but in film industry circles as well) as the screenwriter for Fanboys, a paean to Star Wars fans that follows four friends traveling across the country for perhaps the nerdiest of heists in cinema history -- a sneak peek at The Phantom Menace, which, at the time, was the long-awaited, coveted, before any of us knew the name Jar Jar Binks, first of the Star Wars prequels.
For those who don't know the saga, the film languished in creative difference-induced delays until Star Wars fans launched an impresseive public campaign imploring the Weinstein Company to release the film in adherence to Cline's original vision; the highlight of which was clearly the recasting of Harvey Weinstein as Darth Weinstein.
So, flash forward to August 2011, and Cline is the proud new author of a book which imagines what happens, essentially, if Willy Wonka was the creator of an insidious (okay, more insidious) Second Life that everyone not only played but basically lived inside, and control of this worldwide empire would go to whomever could correctly navigate through a labyrinth of '80s trivia.
And thanks to the perfect storm of a well-written book, a topic touching on both Internet possibilities and anxieties, and a masterful PR campaign, the book is everywhere -- poised to hit the New York Times bestseller list next month, reviewed in a number of major media outlets, and garnering praise from pretty much all the circles you'd imagine the book's Venn diagram to contain.
There were two incredibly striking things about Cline's book party this past Tuesday night -- held at BookPeople in Austin, the city's premiere bookstore, which uses events like a Cline book release to do things like dress up in Jazzercise wear and pretty much just give over to the '80s.
The first is, of course, the DeLorean that was parked out front. The car not only figures into '80s nostalgia for its role as time-traveling device in Back to the Future, but it becomes an emblematic element of Ready Player One, a sort of turducken of '80s cars, containing the K.I.T.T. computer from Knight Rider, the proton pack from Ghostbusters, and some Buckaroo Banzai elements for good measure. Cline, realizing the potential for the DeLorean as promotional tool and business expense, has a replica flux capacitor in the car, if you must know. (And, in the spirit of why the hell not, a Ghostbusters proton pack as well.)
But the second striking thing about Cline and his new burgeoning level of celebrity is the humility and awe with which he's approaching it. Before reading briefly from the book's intro, Cline confessed to just holding his phone to the mic at the prior night's reading in Houston and playing part of Wheaton's audiobook narration.
Most of the program was a Q & A session, which was a whole lot of fans and friends effectively saying, "This is freakin' great!" and Cline effectively saying in response, "I know! I know!" At one point, Cline got a question about the book being converted into a graphic novel, and got to talk about the various languages the book will be translated into. As he noted, "For the Japanese version, they talked about maybe doing it as a Manga... and then my head basically exploded."
For Cline, the next step is to turn the book that he told the Austin Chronicle was impossible to turn into a movie into just that. And though a Ready Player One movie will be fascinating in the way it was to see the Harry Potter franchise (particularly Quidditch) make the transition from page to screen, there's something edifying for those of us who came of age in the '80s -- the generation most between the poles of Old and New Media -- to see so much excitement and celebration over a book, especially a book in which the '80s figures so heavily into the plot, and indeed, as the plot would have it, the future of the entire world.
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