Ernest Cline is most familiar to geeks as the writer of the cult movie Fanboys, and he has recently released his first novel, Ready Player One. Warner Bros are producing a movie of the novel, with Cline attached on script duties. You can read Gillian's review of Ready Player One here. Many thanks to Ernie for giving us his time.
What was the inspiration behind Ready Player One?
My initial flash of inspiration was the idea of a Wonka-esque video game designer holding a contest inside a virtual world he’d created. Shortly after that, I realized 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 them into a coherent story.
The post-fossil fuel world in Ready Player One feels scarily prescient. Do you really think we're heading that way, and if so, do you think we'll find salvation and/or solace online?
It sure seems like we’re headed that way. But I’m not willing to rule out human innovation. It’s possible we’ll invent a cheap, clean, abundant energy source before we run out of fossil fuels. It’s also possible we won’t. I try to remain optimistic.
As for seeking solace online, I think we already do that. I think most people use the Internet as a form of entertainment and escape. It’s a pleasant distraction from the real world. In my novel, I try to take that idea to the extreme, by imagining a world where most of humanity retreats into a virtual world to escape the real one.
The online world of Oasis, and its creator James Halliday, is mostly viewed as a benevolent entity in Ready Player One. In the real world, a lot of vitriol is often aimed at social media sites like Facebook, and people like Mark Zuckerberg. Does Oasis' portrayal represent your own experience of social media?
Not really. I think the OASIS is more a reflection of what I would like for social media to evolve into. I was trying to imagine the coolest possible version of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and MMO games, all mashed up together into a sprawling virtual utopia where every user has total privacy and anonymity. This may not be the future Internet we actually get, but if we ever do, I think it would be wildly popular. And addictive.
You play with the idea that how people represent themselves online may not reflect reality, but you demonstrate that a truth about that personality emerges, which transcends their physicality. Do you feel that's true?
I do, in some cases. I actually have several close friends who I first “met online.” I got to know them really well before ever meeting them in person, and I discovered that my sense of who they were “In Real Life” often turned out to be pretty accurate. But I’ve also heard lots of horror stories about people who’ve had the opposite experience. They meet a friend they’ve known online for years, only to discover that they’ve been hiding or misrepresenting who they really are. Online relationships are something new and unique in the human experience, and I wanted to explore that in my novel.
Your depiction of genuine relationships formed in a virtual environment is refreshingly non-judgemental. Have you made friendships in this way?
Yes! And I have friends who met their spouses through the Internet and have been happily married for over a decade. In my opinion, meeting someone online should no longer have any negative stigma attached to it, especially if the only acceptable alternative is to try and meet someone at a bar or club.
In Oasis, characters have access to all the greatest vehicles in Sci-Fi, and the ability to customise them. What vehicle would you choose, and how would you soup it up?
I’ve already made my choice. I bought a 1982 DeLorean and outfitted it to be a Ghost Busting Knight Riding Jet Car Time Machine, just like Wade’s car in the book. It’s the car featured in my book jacket photo, and I also drove it across the country on my book tour. It’s the sweetest ride ever.
On which of the many fictional worlds would you choose to live?
Probably Magrathea from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a planet where they make other planets, which sounds like a fun place to hang out.
Classic video games play a significant role in the action of the novel. Do you still play any of these games or is it pure nostalgia?
I stopped playing Zelda to do this interview!
There's an impressive range of geek passions on display in the novel. Which are your particular specialist areas of geekery?
Movies, video games, books, and tabletop role-playing games. I’m sort of a geek-of-all-trades.
Did you discover any new geek loves while researching and writing the novel?
Yes, I first discovered the Firefly TV series while I was working on the book, and it’s now one of my all-time favourite shows. I couldn’t resist throwing a few Firefly references into the novel, even though it has nothing to do with the 1980s.
What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
An African or European swallow?