Maybe you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years and have somehow missed all the buzz surrounding Ernest Cline’s sci-fi nostalgia-fest novel Ready Player One. But if you’re one of the many readers who devoured this book and/or has seen Stephen Spielberg’s recent film adaptation, you’re probably wondering what else you can read to fill the RP1 void while you wait for Cline to finish writing the sequel. Here are 25 books like Ready Player One that might fit the bill for you.
Warcross by marie lu
Much like Ready Player One, Marie Lu’s Warcross is about an online game that isn’t just a game, but a “way of life.” Teenage hacker Emika Chen is a bounty hunter who tracks down players who bet on the game illegally. In an effort to make some fast cash in the highly competitive bounty hunting business, Emika hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—”only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.”
snow crash by Neal Stephenson
In my opinion, Stephenson’s Snow Crash is the sci-fi/cyberpunk book that most closely resembles the world of Ready Player One, so if the cyber universe of RP1 is what most attracted you to that book, you really should check out Snow Crash‘s “metaverse.” Hiro Protagonist, much like Wade, is a nobody in the real world, just a pizza delivery boy, but in the metaverse, he’s a warrior prince. What really sets Snow Crash apart from other books in the genre is its humorous slant on the future of America and virtual reality. I highly recommend this one.
The impossible fortress by jason rekulak
If what you loved most about Ready Player One was the nostalgia factor, check out The Impossible Fortress, the debut novel from Quirk publisher Jason Rekulak. This novel is described as “a love letter to the 1980s and to nerds everywhere.” If he were to read this book, James Halladay would be drooling over all of the ’80s pop culture references, including Freddy Krueger, Beetlejuice, Top Gun, Commodore 64 video games, and Eddie Murphy, just to name a few. At the center of all of these ’80s throwbacks is a sweet story of friendship and young love.
ender’s game by orson scott card
This is another novel you’d probably have to be dead to have missed, especially if you’re a fan of sci-fi; however, if you’re only familiar with the lackluster film adaptation and have yet to give this book series a try, definitely check this out. From a very young age, protagonist Ender Wiggin and many gifted children like him are trained to take on an insectoid alien species called “buggers” through a series of games that become increasingly complicated as the children get older and more advanced. This first novel follows Ender’s growth from precocious child to tactical war genius. This is the first in a series, but this novel also stands alone quite well.
Editor’s note: Scott Card is a vocal homophobe who uses his income to support those “causes,” so this one might be best borrowed from a friend or picked up second-hand.
only you can save mankind by terry pratchett
Speaking of novels about aliens and games, here’s another one! This is the first in The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy by Terry Pratchett. Johnny thinks he’s only playing a game when he sets a new high score in the arcade game Only You Can Save Mankind. But then instead of the aliens dying, he gets an unexpected message: “We wish to talk. We surrender.” This novel takes place during the first Gulf War, so now reading this in contemporary times, this novel might also fulfill a sort of nostalgia factor, especially with the retro games.
one con glory by sarah kuhn
If your favorite part of Ready Player One its reverence for nerdy pop culture, then this is the book for you. This quick little novella stars a self-proclaimed fangirl named Julie who lives for Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathons and comic book superheroes. For Julie, her collection will not be complete until she scores the Glory Gilmore action figure that has eluded her grasp for years. Then one weekend, she finally gets the opportunity to make her dream a reality, but not before “an avalanche of unexpected obstacles.” For the gamers, there are plenty of video game references as well.
moxyland by lauren beukes
Into the whole futuristic dystopian setting of Ready Player One? You should read Moxyland. Set in a high-tech version of Cape Town, South Africa, Beukes’s highly imaginative novel follows four protagonists: “Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program; Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers; Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid; and Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem.” If this super awesome book cover isn’t enough to hook you, then I don’t know what to do for you. This one is pretty fun.
insignia by S.J. KIncaid
This is another novel that’s the first in a series, and it’s often marketed as perfect for fans of Ender’s Game. And since I think Ender’s Game is a great book for Ready Player One fans, this book makes the list. “The planet’s natural resources are almost gone, and war is being fought to control the assets of the solar system. The enemy is winning. The salvation may be Tom Raines. Tom doesn’t seem like a hero. He’s a short fourteen-year-old with bad skin. But he has the virtual-reality gaming skills that make him a phenom behind the controls of the battle drones.” Teen gamers saving the world? Sounds familiar.
the automatic detective by A. Lee Martinez
How often to you have the opportunity to read robot noir fiction? Check out A. Lee Martinez’s robot detective Mack Megatron. It’s hard out there for a bot in futuristic Empire City, and Megatron is just trying to prove himself as a decent robot so he can gain citizenship. That’s until he begins investigating a missing biologicals (humans) case, and everything gets complicated from there. Including lots of fun references to detective fiction as well as science fiction tropes, The Automatic Detective will appeal to fans of Ready Player One who enjoy world-building and government conspiracies.
dark matter by blake crouch
This novel is more about alternate timelines than it is about futuristic worlds; however, I still regularly recommend it to people who love Ready Player One because I would argue both sci-fi novels deal with navigating alternate worlds, whether they are virtual or horrifyingly real. In Dark Matter, protagonist Jason Dessen is kidnapped and thrown into a world that closely resembles his own, except in this world an alternate version of himself has created a box that allows people to travel the multiverse. This novel will have you questioning what your own life would be like if you had made different choices.
in real life by cory doctorow/jen wang
Full disclosure: I don’t read a whole lot of graphic novels, but thanks to Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, I’ve been reading them a lot more recently. This is one I read to fulfill the “Comic Written or Illustrated by a Person of Color” challenge, and as I was reading it, it struck me that this is a book that would appeal to Ready Player One fans. It’s all about a girl named Anda who spends most of her free time in Coursegold Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Like many of the characters in Ready Player One, Anda sees her avatar as an opportunity to seek out adventure and live out fantasies that seem impossible in real life.
the lives of tao by wesley chu
This is yet another book that is the first in a trilogy. Sci-fi novel writers just love their trilogies. Roen is an out-of-shape IT guy who, unlike protagonists in other sci-fi novels, doesn’t escape his world through an alternate or virtual reality. Rather, an alien named Tao escapes the uninhabitable Earth by implanting in Roen’s brain. But can Tao whip Roen into shape in time to defeat his alien enemies? This is for fans of Ready Player One who love a good nerd-turned-hero story arc.
my best friend’s exorcism by grady hendrix
Admittedly, I am obsessed with this novel and will look for any opportunity to recommend it to people. In fact, I’m pretty surprised this is the first time My Best Friend’s Exorcism has shown up on one of my Book Riot posts. Yes, this is horror and not sci-fi, but hear me out. If ’80s pop culture references are your jam (and if you love Ready Player One, they probably are), this book is for you. Each chapter is named after a popular ’80s song, the protagonist is obsessed with E.T., and a demon is fought of by calling upon the power of…Phil Collins? This book is a crazy ride that, while it has echoes of classic Stephen King as well as ’80s teen movies like Heathers, is totally unique and unlike anything else you’ve experienced. Even if you don’t normally like horror, give this one a try.
the running man by stephen king
Oh hey! Speaking of Stephen King, check out this novel, originally written under the pen name Richard Bachman. There is a Stephen King novel out there for everyone, and The Running Man is the perfect Stephen King novel for fans of Ready Player One. This novel is set within a dystopian future in which poor people are treated more like pawns that human beings. After his daughter becomes ill, protagonist Ben Richards enlists himself in a reality-style game show in order to earn money to pay for his daughter’s medical bills. The objective of the game? Stay alive.
scott pilgrim’s precious little life by bryan lee o’malley
This is the first in a series of comic books, but really if you’re a Ready Player One fan, you should just read the whole series. Scott Pilgrim is a 23-year-old Canadian guy who plays in a band and dates a high school girl. Everything in his life is pretty okay until he meets a rollerblading delivery girl named Ramona Flowers. Now he must face all seven of Ramona’s ex-boyfriends in battle before he can win this awesome girl’s heart. The comics are filled with pop culture references, and Ready Player One fans will especially appreciate all of the video game references.
little brother by cory doctorow
Is it cheating to have two Cory Doctorow books on this list? These two authors just seem to be on similar wavelengths. In Little Brother, our protagonist is a seventeen year old named Marcus (or call him by his online moniker “w1n5ton”) who, along with his friends, finds himself caught in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. The city soon becomes a police state where every citizen is treated like a suspected terrorist, and it’s up to Marcus to take down the totalitarian government. Like Ready Player One, this is a sci-fi novel that walks the line between young adult and adult literature, putting a young protagonist in highly adult situations.
agent to the stars by john scalzi
Here’s another novel that’s a fun mixture of pop culture and sci-fi that should appeal to Ready Player One fans. What do you do when you’re a alien species that’s come to earth to make contact with humans, but you’re having trouble closing the deal because you smell like rotting fish? You hire Thomas Stein, one of Hollywood’s hottest agents, of course. If you’re into science fiction that also has a touch of comedy thrown in, this is one you will enjoy.
feed by M.T. Anderson
Think about how much easier it would have been for Wade to plug in to the Oasis if it had been implanted into his brain. This is a reality in the world of M.T. Anderson’s Feed where people connect to the Internet via feeds in their brain. So what happens when a hacker causes a group of teenage kids’ feeds to malfunction? And will our protagonist Titus get the girl (Violet)? Read to find out.
32 candles by ernessa t. carter
Here’s another pick for those who love ’80s nostalgia, especially ’80s movies. Much like Wade’s life is directly affected by ’80s movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Davie Jones’s life is changed forever after she sees the iconic ’80s teen movie Sixteen Candles. After a cruel school prank goes too far, Davie bids her humdrum Mississippi life farewell and runs of to Hollywood in pursuit of her own “Molly Ringwald Happy Ending.” This novel is perfect for fans of Ready Player One who lit up every time a John Hughes film was referenced.
otherworld by jason segel/kirsten miller
Yes, this novel is co-written by the actor Jason Segel of How I Met Your Mother and Muppets fame. And yes, this is another sci-fi novel about a game. Otherworld is a completely immersive virtual reality where you not only see and hear, but you taste, smell, and feel the virtual world. Otherworld is a virtual reality game that is so much more than a game, so addictive that you might never want it to end, and for some, it might not.
all our wrong todays by elan mastai
This is a novel I’m recommending for reasons similar to the reasons I recommended Dark Matter. This is a novel all about alternate timelines rather than virtual worlds, but I feel like both of those concepts are still in the same ballpark. In All Our Wrong Todays, we first enter a present world that looks a lot like films like Back to the Future imagined the world would be like by now. 2016 is a high tech Utopian paradise, but it’s missing the one thing protagonist Tom most wants—the love of his life. So Tom does what any heartsick person in 2016 would do. He hops into a time machine to try to win back the girl. Yet what he finds is that the changes he makes in the past bring him back to a horrifying new present, a present that looks a lot like the world us readers live in today.
Ghosts of arcadia by ramsey isler
A.R.C.A.D.I.A. is a platform that offers a complete simulated reality by tapping into direct brain scans in order to intuit what its users want to do next and to give them a complete sensory experience. But when a system this invasive gets hacked, a lot can and will go wrong. Miguel Naciamento, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and hedonist, takes on the story of this virtual game in order to find the hackers, and in doing so “becomes entrenched in a mystery that involves an androgynous hacker, a veteran government specialist on cyber-warfare, and even the creator of A.R.C.A.D.I.A.”
the three-body problem by cixin liu
If, like me, you’re participating in Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, this novel is an opportunity to read a genre book in translation. Liu’s novel takes on the classic science-fiction premise of alien contact with Earth while also delving into Chinese culture and politics as well. This book might seem a bit more serious than a lot of the recommendations on this list, but I still believe Ready Player One fans will enjoy it because of its connection to computer games and interest in conspiracies. Plus, it won the Hugo Award in 2015, and Barack Obama mentioned this novel as one of his personal favorites.
8-bit christmas by kevin jakubowski
Video games? Check. Nostalgia? Check. “It’s 1980-something and all nine-year-old Jake Doyle wants for Christmas is a Nintendo Entertainment System.” This novel has been compared to the classic ’80s Christmas movie A Christmas Story, but with more video games. Definitely one to check out for Ready Player One fans.
armada by ernest cline
I thought I would end this list with the most obvious suggestion just in case you haven’t thought of it yet. If you loved Ready Player One, you should check out Cline’s most recent novel Armada. Much like its predecessor, Armada plays homage to video games and ’80s pop culture, with a huge emphasis on science-fiction. Consensus seems to be that this one is not nearly as good as Ready Player One, but if you’re looking for more of the same from the same author, this book is still pretty fun.
With no set release date yet for the Ready Player One sequel novel, hopefully these books will help get you through your RP1 dry spell after you’ve exhausted the original and the movie. Let me know if you have any additional suggestions for books like Ready Player One in the comments!