The 20 Best Ready Player One Alternatives on Amazon
Based on the trailer, the upcoming Ready Player One film appears to be totally faithful to the book that inspired it. For some people, that means it'll be an action-packed ‘80s throwback; for others, that means it'll be a nonsensical mess with a side of racism and sexism. Although Ready Player One is a polarizing book, its subject matter has widespread appeal: ‘80s kitsch, virtual reality, nerdy romance and online gaming. Whether you loved or hated Ready Player One, here are some similar — and arguably better — books.
"My Best Friend's Exorcism," by Grady Hendrix (2016)
The ‘80s were a time of over-the-top horror films, teen friendships and preposterous fashion decisions. My Best Friend's Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix, combines all of those disparate threads into one tremendously entertaining novel. High school juniors Abby and Gretchen are best friends, but nothing tests the bonds of companionship like being possessed by an evil spirit. Gretchen's incredibly strange behavior could be demonic in origin — or it could be a sign of changing teenage tastes. Reviewers describe this one as a mix between "The Exorcist" and "Heathers."
"Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths," by Ryan Britt (2015)
If you yearn for the sci-fi pop culture of yesteryear, Ryan Britt has you covered. In "Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths," Britt pens a whole book's worth of essays about everything from Star Wars to Doctor Who to Sherlock Holmes to Barbarella. The book is educational, in the same way that sitting on your couch and thinking way too deeply about disposable children's entertainment can be educational. But more than that, it's incredibly funny and might spark your own late-night revelations about your favorite properties.
"Paper Girls," by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (2015)
Remember your first job? Getting up early, making friends, tackling murderous extraterrestrial dinosaurs — good times. "Paper Girls" focuses on four suburban girls making newspaper deliveries during the Reagan era. They bond over school, boys, music — and having to fight off a mysterious alien invasion that freezes time for almost everyone in town except themselves. As the story progresses, they tackle everything from bullying to time travel, all while dealing with the looming specter of the Cold War. It's kind of funny, kind of sweet and kind of nostalgic.
"Signal to Noise," by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2015)
Listen up, kids. Before we had Spotify playlists, the only way to share music with your friends was to make them a mixtape, in which you recorded your favorite songs onto a cassette. (Just like in Guardians of the Galaxy!) In "Signal to Noise," by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, young protagonist Mercedes Vega doesn't just get a kick out of making '80s mixtapes; she also gets magical powers. While spellcasting sounds great, in theory, it makes the perils of teenage friendship and romance in Mexico City that much more complicated.
"Bedlam," by Christopher Brookmyre (2013)
If you dream of a totally immersive video game, Christopher Brookmyre's Bedlam explains why the scenario might be more of a nightmare. In the novel, players enter a digital world in which anything goes: high fantasy dragons, or spacefaring starships. Death isn't permanent, and war is. Imagine "Tron," but with more serious consequences, and that's about the long and short of it. With lots of nostalgic nods to the games that inspired it, Bedlam is unsettling, funny and enormously creative. You may not want to play a video game for a while afterward, though.
"8-Bit Christmas," by Kevin Jakubowski (2013)
Did you get a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas when you were growing up? If so, you'll relate to 8-Bit Christmas, a comic novel from Kevin Jakubowski. Jake Doyle wants a Nintendo, but a local uproar makes the prospect of getting one for the holidays extremely unlikely. In a tale that references just about every classic toy from the '80s (including G.I. Joe, Teddy Ruxpin, Cabbage Patch Kids, Super Mario Bros. and a set of baseball cards), Jakubowski reminds us of how much fun the '80s were — and how ridiculous they could be.
"Eleanor & Park," by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
Ever since Romeo and Juliet, people have really liked stories about star-crossed teenage lovers — but Romeo and Juliet didn't bond over their mutual love of mixtapes and X-Men comics. "Eleanor & Park," by Rainbow Rowell, tells the story of the two titular characters: 16-year-old students who fall for each other in 1986. Their parents don't approve, naturally — and they can't help but realize that the long-term prospects for high school relationships aren't usually that good. If '80s love stories are your thing, this one is sweet — but not too sweet.
"Off to Be the Wizard," by Scott Meyer (2013)
Who needs virtual reality games when you can make reality itself into a video game? In Scott Meyer's "Off to Be the Wizard," programmer Martin Banks discovers that reality is, as some experts have alleged, just a computer simulation. But that's OK, because if reality is composed of algorithms, Banks can manipulate them. He travels back in time to the Middle Ages, using his newfound reality-hacking powers to pose as a wizard. As it turns out, though, medieval life isn't as easy as this 21st-century man thought at first.
"A Visit from the Goon Squad," by Jennifer Egan (2011)
If the thing you remember most about the '80s is its distinctive soundtrack, "A Visit from the Goon Squad," by Jennifer Egan, will be a walk down memory lane — sort of. Egan's postmodern novel follows a loosely interconnected group of '80s teens as they grow up and try to break in (and out) of the music industry. The timeline is all over the place, and every chapter takes place from a different perspective, but a love of glam rock and hair metal pervades the whole book. It's sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking, not unlike the music that inspired it.
"Back to Our Future," by David Sirota (2011)
The '80s conjure up a very specific image of contentious global politics, extravagant pop culture and childhood nostalgia, even for people who didn't grow up in that era. David Sirota explores why that's the case in "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now." If you want to learn the intricate connections between the Wall Street boom, trickle-down economics, The Karate Kid film, Bon Jovi's tour and the NBA championships, look no further. For better and worse, the modern era has adopted many behaviors from the '80s, making the book relevant for a today's readers.
"Omnitopia: Dawn," by Diane Duane (2010)
If World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV are any indication, people in real life love it when MMOs come out with new content. Not so in Diane Duane's Omnitopia: Dawn. (Fun fact: Duane was also a writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation.) A new expansion is on the way for Dev Logan's incredibly popular MMO, Omnitopia. Unfortunately, not all of its participants are willing to just play nicely with each other. A devious conspiracy to bring down the game is brewing, and if that happens, the consequences could easily spill over into real life, for both Dev and his customers.
"For the Win," by Cory Doctorow (2010)
Virtual economies can be every bit as intricate as their real-world counterparts; just ask EVE Online players, or Bitcoin speculators. In "For the Win," by Cory Doctorow, three "gold-farmers" (people who mine in-game currency to sell for real cash) catch the attention of a shadowy figure called Big Sister, who wants to turn the digital economy — and maybe the whole technological world — on its head. Naturally, upending the status quo involves some skullduggery, both in the game world and in real life, keeping the stakes high and the outcome unpredictable.
"Halting State," by Charles Stross (2007)
Sue Smith is a sergeant in the Edinburgh police, but she's never dealt with a bank robbery quite like Hayek Associates. That's because Hayek Associates is located in Avalon Four, a fantasy video game replete with bloodthirsty orcs and fire-breathing dragons. "Halting State," by Charles Stross, is partially a solid heist mystery and partially an exploration of how digital currency can be just as valuable — or even more so — than its physical counterparts. Rigging a complete collapse in a virtual economy could have some very real consequences, both for the U.K. economy and Sgt. Smith herself.
"Lucky Wander Boy," by D.B. Weiss (2003)
Before he was a showrunner for HBO's Game of Thrones, D.B. Weiss tried his hand at being a novelist. "Lucky Wander Boy" is a bizarre and delightful tale about preserving titles from the golden age of arcade games. Adam Pennyman is obsessed with cataloging every video game ever made, but one arcade machine continually eludes him: Lucky Wander Boy, an obscure title that never quite gained the notoriety of Pac-Man or Frogger. If you're interested in the culture behind the bygone era of arcade machines, "Lucky Wander Boy" is downright educational, in addition to being a fun follow-the-clues mystery.
"Synners," by Pat Cadigan (2001)
Pat Cadigan didn't invent the cyberpunk genre, but she's spent the past few decades coming pretty close to perfecting it. In "Synners," reality and technology are so intertwined, it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. People called "Synners" are capable of scanning human brains, then isolating experiences and selling them for consumption. It's not long before the novel technique spawns a new wave of crime, and the seedy cyberunderworld is the perfect place for intrigue. The book explores a potential dark side to immersive tech, demonstrating that it's not all fun and games.
"City of Golden Shadow," by Tad Williams (1996)
If you've wondered what a highly literary story about an immersive virtual game might be like, wonder no more. "City of Golden Shadow" kicked off the Otherland series by Tad Williams, and this doorstopper of a tome has it all: MMOs gone wrong, World War I soldiers displaced in time, disgruntled players taking revenge, inexplicable visions of bird women and references to everything from "The Odyssey" to "The Lord of the Rings." The full story takes four massive books to unfold, so if you like "City of Golden Shadow," there's more where that came from.
"Snow Crash," by Neal Stephenson (1992)
Like "Ready Player One," "Snow Crash" stars an expert gamer whose facility with a virtual world helps him find answers about the real one. Unlike "Ready Player One," though, "Snow Crash" also addresses topics such as racism, linguistics, corporatism, overreliance on technology and sexism head-on. Hiro Protagonist is an Afro-Korean pizza deliveryman who stumbles on a conspiracy that involves the Mafia, the church and an incredibly deadly hitman known as Raven. "Snow Crash" positively drips with style, and its convoluted plot is well worth following to its explosive (if extremely sudden) climax.
"Ender's Game," by Orson Scott Card (1985)
When it comes to "young men proving themselves by mastering a video game," "Ender's Game," by Orson Scott Card, is the great-granddaddy of the genre. Ender Wiggin is an angry kid, but an organization known as Battle School may be able to find a way to channel his temper — as well as his intelligence and innate leadership abilities — into a more useful channel. Earth is at war with a race known as the Buggers, and by running Ender through a series of demanding simulations, he could eventually lead Earth's forces against its insidious foe. Naturally, though, the situation is not as simple as it seems.
"Neuromancer," by William Gibson (1984)
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." Critics often cite the first sentence of William Gibson's "Neuromancer" as one of the best in literature, and the rest of the book lives up to it. Case is a hacker who got in over his head; Molly is a mercenary who may be able to bail him out. Together, they investigate a mysterious entity known as Wintermute, a sentient AI who may be able to change not only cyberspace, but the fate of humanity itself.
"Fahrenheit 451," by Ray Bradbury (1953)
While "Fahrenheit 451," by Ray Bradbury, could never have predicted the meteoric rise of video games, it stands the test of time as the original cautionary tale about too much screen time. Guy Montag is a firefighter, but rather than putting out fires, he sets them. It's illegal to possess and read books in Montag's near-future America; instead, people keep themselves anesthetized with nonstop immersive television. Underneath Fahrenheit 451's unsettling story is an even more unsettling message: that interactive technology has the capacity to make us willingly hand in our critical thought and, subsequently, our rights.