Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” is a hit, pulling in $181 million worldwide in box office receipts during its inaugural weekend, and giving the filmmaker his biggest success since “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” a decade ago. But while Spielberg didn’t need another big sci-fi hit to prove his worth in the genre, the success of the Ernest Cline adaptation may help open the door for other ambitious novels to make the jump to the screen.
Cline’s pop culture-infused vision of a future world dominated by imaginative technology is hardly the only one of its ilk, and the bestseller is part of a long line of similar stories, many of which are already primed for their own adaptations. Speculative fiction that is rooted in the evolving possibilities of VR, online gaming, and cultural currency seems poised for a Hollywood moment. Here are seven novels that just might be the next “Ready Player One” (or perhaps even bigger).
“Armada” by Ernest Cline
The most obvious adaptation to capitalize on the success of “Ready Player One” is the same project that followed Cline’s book on to the bestseller shelves — his follow-up, “Armada.” Similarly littered with references to ’80s and ’90s pop culture, the story itself sounds very close to a genuine ’80s-era classic: Nick Castle’s “The Last Starfighter.” Like that 1984 feature (which, yes, of course, is repeatedly mentioned by name in the novel), “Aramada” follows a teenager who realizes that the video game he plays for fun is actually a recruitment tool used by a galactic army to find talented fighters. When he’s asked to join up with the Earth Defense Alliance (EDA) in real life, it sets him on a course for the kind of wild action a teen could previously only dream about. Universal picked up the rights to the adaptation in 2012 (years before it was published in the summer of 2015), and just this week set screenwriter Dan Mazeau to write a new draft, based off a first pass by Cline.
“The Oracle Year” by Charles Soule
Tomorrow Studios recently snapped a hot ticket buy that might appeal to the “Ready Player One” fanbase: comic book writer Charles Soule’s brand-new novel “The Oracle Year,” which was released just this week. Back in January, Tomorrow and ITV Studios picked up the rights to the mind-bending book with an eye to develop it into a television series. The film follows a seemingly regular New York dude named Will Dando who wakes up one morning with his head filled with precisely 108 visions of things to come in the future. Initially afraid, Will and his best pal set up a website to release the various predictions (for a price, of course), making Will the most powerful — and most hunted — person in the world. It’s an intriguing enough premise, but early reviews also hint that there are greater powers at work, and Will’s predictions (crazy enough on their own) just might combine into a single wild event.
“Warcross” by Marie Lu
Bestselling author Marie Lu recently launched a brand-new YA series, which joins her bestsellers like “The Young Elites” and “Legend,” and spins off the idea of a global game into thrilling new territory. The book follows teen hacker Emika Chen, who has spent most of her formative years playing the eponymous game, which has dominated the world’s obsessions for a decade. As a bounty hunter, Emika makes her bones by tracking down Warcrossers who bet illegally on the game, but it’s not enough to keep her afloat. That’s why she hacks into the international Warcross Championships, a choice that leads her directly to the game’s creator, who offers up his own “Ready Player One” style task to the smart computer whiz. Naturally, it comes with major consequences for the entire world.
“Artemis” by Andy Weir
Like Cline, Weir’s work rocketed to acclaim after getting his own splashy big screen adaptation, thanks to Ridley Scott’s take on his meticulous “The Martian.” Weir followed his highly successful debut novel with “Artemis,” another spacey sci-fi offering that takes place in the 2080s after humans have managed to colonize the moon. The book takes its title from the single city that has managed to sustain human life, though it’s an expensive enclave and the book’s lead, delivery girl Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, spends her time smuggling in contraband to help finance her life. What’s most appealing about Weir’s work is how stridently he attempts to marry real science with his visions of the future. “Artemis” doesn’t pack in all the cultural winks and nods of “Ready Player One,” but it does offer a look at how the world may look in the coming years, something that Cline’s OASIS taps into as well. Fox and New Regency picked up the book’s big screen rights back in January of 2017.
“The Punch Escrow” by Tal M. Klein
Klein’s debut novel is similarly obsessed with the ins and outs of emerging technology — in this case, nanotechnology and teleportation. Set in 2147, the novel follows Joel Byram, who is tasked with training eager artificial intelligences to be more human. Klein weaves together Joel’s work, the rocketing teleportation industry, and the very weird state of the world (it picks up after something called The Last War, which basically ended with corporations in charge of all governance) to tell a sprawling, inventive new story. There are lots of fun, Cline-esque touches (Joel is obsessed with New Wave jams) and a bent towards actual science in the same vein as Weir (the book is packed with a mess of enlightening footnotes), but Klein mainly excels at cutting his own path with a wild story. James Bobin was tapped to direct a film version of the book in January of last year.
“Erebos” by Ursula Poznanski
Ursula Poznanski’s “Erebos” puts a clever twist on the world laid out by Cline: What if everyone was obsessed with a secretive online game, but it was one that required real world action? The book follows teenage Nick as he plunges deeper into Erebos gameplay, which puts his real life at major risk, especially when it becomes clear that the people who run Erebos know quite a bit about their players. As Nick’s devotion to the game increases, his actual existence becomes still more tenuous, and the “real” and the “virtual” become still harder to tell apart.
“Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson’s bonafides as a sci-fi and speculative fiction author are well-established, and while it’s hard to pick his best work, “Snow Crash” stands as the most obvious “Ready Player One” influencer, though it packs its own vivid vision of the future. The book was published back in 1992 and went through various rounds of cinematic pre-production, but finally seems poised to hit the screen after Amazon picked it up for series development back in September of last year. Set in a future America where Los Angeles is no longer a part of America and the rest of the country belongs to various corporate enclaves, many people find refuge (kind of) in the sprawling Metaverse, Stephenson’s vision of what a VR-tinged internet could look like. That includes the cleverly named Hiro Protagonist, who labors as a driver for the mob (in the real world) but is really a warrior prince (in the Metaverse). When a virus starts taking out hackers, Hiro steps up to find its maker, who has some big plans for the rest of the ruined world.