Readalikes for Ready Player One

There have already been a million readalike lists created around Ready Player One, so it may be overkill to add another one to the pile. But I do like a challenge, and the good news is that being aware of how many lists exist means that I’ve also consulted those lists in order to limit overlap as much as possible in my own and as a result, what follows may be the only RPO-readalike list either bold or foolish enough to not include a single title by Neal Stephenson.

Fortunately, books like Ready Player One contain multitudes, blending genres and including a number of appealing elements, so there are many possible reasons a reader might respond to them, and as many branches upon which to hang a readalike list. RPO, for example, is a fun and funny coming of age quest/puzzle-based story set in the escapist virtual world of a dystopian future with a heavy dose of 1980’s nostalgia that includes a little romance, a little mystery, and a lot of gamer identity. I’ve lost count of how many reasons that is to like it, but it’s a lot. Surely enough to support one million and one readalike lists.

So! Here are 10 adult fiction/SF titles for fans of Ready Player One, with my apologies to Mr. Stephenson and all of his cyberpunk friends for excluding them.

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss

This is the first book in the Dahlia Moss trilogy, and it is the perfect complementary BFF for RPO. If you appreciate humor, celebrating geeklife, adventure, mystery, fandoms, and encountering a parade of references to video games, anime, cosplay, and other geeky pursuits, it may also become your perfect complementary BFF.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

A variation on RPO’s theme of scavenger hunt/puzzle adventures undertaken by a plucky team, here a group of eccentric tech-savvy pals meet at a very special bookstore in San Francisco where they discover the existence of a secret society of booknerds long devoted to the pursuit of solving an ancient mystery centered in coded books. A funny, fast-paced quest story using both old and new problem-solving techniques.

Wolf in White Van

For all of you who liked RPO but wished it were much sadder, the story of a horribly disfigured man who, isolated from the rest of the world, invents one of his own; a massive, sprawling role-playing game conducted through the mail, sustaining a cult following even after the Internet renders such methods obsolete. It’s about creation, delusion, community, and the double-edged power and danger of invented sanctuaries.


Lauren Beukes writes the Black Mirror-style near-future technological cautionary tale so well, that even though this was written in 2008, it still feels relevant and terrifying, and any combination of the things that happen within could be what leads to the state of RPO’s world. Less lighthearted than RPO for sure, but a must for those interested in the social, political, and diabolical possibilities of future tech.

The Impossible Fortress

It may take place in the “real” world, but this adorable 80’s romcom of a novel is a solid readalike option for RPO, where a girl and a boy use their nascent programming skills and a C64 to try to win a contest sponsored by a gaming company. The early days of teenage coding, a heist undertaken in the name of celebrity boobs, and a glittering confetti-shower of 80s references; this is a retro paradise OASIS would dig.

Omnitopia: Dawn

A classic tale as old as time: good, evil, commerce, dueling MMORPGs, self-aware AIs…Adding some corporate espionage to RPO’s Willy Wonka scenario, players of a popular online game called Omnitopia are periodically selected to become paid contributors; creating their own worlds within the larger world of the game. A tech-geek’s dream come true but also a dream come true for, you know, bad guys with machinations.

Shovel Ready

Like RPO, this fast-paced SF/noir adventure features a VR world preferable to the bombed-out ruins of the real one. Unlike RPO, this option is only available to the ultra-wealthy, immersed for months while servants tend to their physical bodies. This leaves them vulnerable to the likes of our hitman-antihero Spademan, who uncovers even more threats lurking in the VR after he refuses a job and investigates his client.

Bash Bash Revolution

Retro video games, conspiracies, apocalypse, artificial intelligence, technology gone awry and the slow slide of reality into virtual reality makes this book pair well with RPO. Its humor is a bit darker, less playful, but it’s another good look atamong other thingshow the perks of our technological age, like social media and video games, have redefined community and affected our ability to communicate IRL.


In RPO, the death of the billionaire creator of the OASIS sets in motion a game whose winner will inherit ownership of the OASIS and all its wealth. In Daemon, the death of the billionaire creator of many successful online games sets in motion a computer program designed to systematically destroy civilization with murder and mayhem and the like. It’s important to leave a legacy.

Press Start to Play

A collection of video-game themed short stories from some of the best in the biz, with a great deal more female authors than these anthologies typically include. Many of the stories relate to RPO in their use of nostalgia, humor, a puzzle element, or the presence of game-based relationships, and with 26 chances, one of them is bound to be a winner in the “I like RPO because…” game.

Ready Player One hits theaters March 29, so there’s still time to read, re-read, or make your own readalike lists!

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