THE BLOG
08/17/2011 02:21 pm ET

'Ready Player One': An Interview with Author Ernest Cline

The first thing I thought when I finished Ernest Cline's "Ready Player One" was, "My God, it's the grown-up's 'Harry Potter.'" Now this is from a mega "HP" fan, so I mean business, here. The mystery and fantasy in this novel weaves itself in the most delightful way, and the details that make up Mr. Cline's world are simply astounding. "Ready Player One" has it all -- nostalgia, trivia, adventure, romance, heart and, dare I say it, some very fascinating social commentary. The novel follows Wade Watts through the virtual reality world, the OASIS, and on a quest to uncover and unlock the secrets buried deep inside. There is a little bit of King Arthur here, as well. Mr. Cline was kind enough to answer some burning questions I had: How did he come up with this fascinating concept? How does he see the Internet today? Are we destined to live online?

Rebecca Serle: What lead you to write "Ready Player One"? Was it a slow build, or did the idea fall into your head?

Ernest Cline: It was a few flashes of inspiration, followed by a very slow build. First, I got the idea of a Wonka-esque video game designer holding a contest inside a virtual world he'd created. Shortly after that, it occurred to me that all of the puzzles the game designer set up could deal with the stuff he was obsessed with -- the pop culture of his youth in the 1980s. Once I had those two ideas, I spent the next several years filling notebooks with ideas and trying to figure out how to work it all into an exciting, coherent story. It took me a long time.

RS: The book, to me, has a complex stance on technology. So many tend to brand the Internet as the downfall of youth, but "Ready Player One" hints that it's more complicated than that. Can you talk a bit about the way you see the real versus online dilemma today?

EC: I think it's a bit silly to brand the Internet as the "downfall of youth." The Internet is one of the few things kids today have going for them. They've inherited a nightmare economy, a screwed-up environment and a bloated consumer culture poised on the brink of collapse. The Internet, on the other hand, gives kids access to the collected knowledge, music and art of our entire civilization. It allows them to communicate and collaborate with other people all around the world. I realize that some kids don't do any of this and instead spend all of their time texting and surfing porn, but I think that's a small minority. There are other kids out there crowd-sourcing film, music and art projects, using the online world to make the real one a better place. It gives me hope.

RS: The details in this book are just remarkable. Was it all in your head or did you, like Wade, have to hunt back through the 80s as you were writing? Can you tell us a little about your creative process?

EC: Most of it was in my head, but I would often go online and look things up, just to make sure I wasn't mis-remembering anything.

My "creative process" involved watching a lot of old movies, listening to a lot of 80s music, and playing a lot of old video games. I called this "research," but it was really just a way to avoid having to actually write.

RS: What role do you think the Internet will play in future generations? Are we headed for an online world?

EC: It seems like the natural evolution of the Internet and our current culture. Right now, we access the online world through our computer monitors and smartphone screens, but I think it's only a matter of time until the Internet evolves into an immersive virtual space that allows you to access all of your other data from inside it. Once the technology is there, instead of text-based chatrooms, we could have actual VR chatrooms that people can access with avatars, so it would be like you were actually hanging out in a room with other people, even though those other people might be spread all over the world. Once the people of planet Earth are all hanging out together online in a virtual world without any borders, I think it could change social networking, entertainment and even politics.

Of course, science fiction writers are notoriously bad about guessing what the future will be like, so I could be completely wrong.