Interview with Indie Lit Winner, Ernest Cline
By: Trisha (Director of Speculative Fiction)
Writers often say that dystopias are not about predicting the future, but about magnifying and commenting on aspects of the present. Which aspects of our world influenced your world building? What social and/or political concerns made it into the novel?
In creating the OASIS, I was trying to imagine what the Internet will have evolved into thirty years from now, while also examining our society’s current addiction to social networking sites, streaming movies and music, and immersive online video games. As for social or political concerns, I did do a lot of research about climate change and Peak Oil, and where those two forces might lead us if we continue on our current trajectory. But I purposefully didn’t delve too deeply into those issues, because my main goal was to write a fun, engaging adventure story.
To what extent do you think the future you created could become real? Do you think we will one day live our lives in a virtual reality like OASIS?
Climate change and Peak Oil are definitely real, and I think both are going to have a serious impact on our civilization over the next thirty years. But I don’t know if things will get as bad as they are in the future described in my novel, because you can never rule out human invention and ingenuity. We might discover a source of cheap, clean, abundant energy later this year and that would change our whole future. I hope something like that happens, but the alternative outlook is pretty grim.
And yes, I think all of our currently technology is headed towards the creation of something like the OASIS. Here in the West, we already live most of our lives inside the womb of technology, surrounded by it at all times. Most of us carry a handheld computer in our pocket that connects us to a global computer network at all times. Thirty years from now, our relationship with technology will probably be even more intense.
Are you a gamer? If so, what are your favorite games and how did they influence the plot?
Yes, I’m a lifelong gamer. Video games, board games, roleplaying games, you name it. Classic arcade games are my favorite, along with old Atari 2600 games (my first home game system), and so Ready Player One is full of references to them. But I love more recent games, too. I was addicted to EverQuest for awhile, until I went cold turkey. And I still have a weak spot for first-person shooters like Quake and Half-Life 2. My most recent gaming obsession is Star Wars: The Old Republic, a new MMO from Bioware.
So, uh, what sort of fashion were you rocking in the 80s? Tight rolling your jeans? Jelly bracelets? Were you more Phil Collins, The Cure, or Motley Crue? Maybe Grandmaster Flash?
I wore pegged acid-washed jeans and put way too much product in my hair, just like everyone else. As for music, I was really into Van Halen and Def Leppard, before I discovered brainy nerd rock like Rush, Devo, and They Might Be Giants. (I still love me some Van Halen, though.)
What movies do you think best represent the 80s?
That’s a tough questions. I could probably list about thirty movies that define that decade – and most of them are mentioned in my novel. But for a dose of pure uncut 80s culture, you can’t really beat the six John Hughes teen classics: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Weird Science.
Inquiring literary minds want to know: what are you reading right now? and what’s the last really great book you read?
At the moment I’m reading “And So It Goes,” a biography of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The last great book I finished was Stephen King’s 11-22-63. It’s a gripping time travel tale by one of the world’s great storytellers. Good stuff.
So what’s next? Any new and amazing ideas percolating in that brain of yours?
I’m working on a coming-of-age novel about growing up as a total geek in the Midwest during the late 1980s, and how video arcades and fantasy roleplaying games helped me survive a twisted adolescence. I’m also adapting the story as a screenplay that I plan to direct someday. But I need to finish the book first.
Well, I, for one, can say with 100% certainty that I shall be reading it.
Thank you so much, Mr. Cline (I totally call you Ernie in my head) for participating in the interview, and for writing a book that I can visit again and again.
Thank you to Ernest Cline for answering our questions.
2011 Shortlist for Speculative Fiction
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Candlewick)
- The Magician King by Lev Grossman (Viking)
- 11/22/1963 by Stephen King (Scribner)
- Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor Books)
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Crown)