Ready Player Three (or Four)

SXSW brought tens of thousands of people into a small pocket of downtown Austin, wrecking traffic and filling the sidewalks to overflowing. It made it nearly impossible to find people, even with the help of cell phones. It was a good thing the ride I was waiting for was hard to miss.

“Is that a DeLorean?” someone in the crowd asked.

They had spotted my ride for me.

A stainless steel spaceship of a car with a roaring hotrod engine came to a stop by the curb. I pulled the latch on the gull-wing passenger door, and my grin bumped into my ears. I was about to climb into an icon. My favorite new author was sitting at the wheel.

“Wassap, Ernie?”

There’s nothing like shaking hands with someone who pounded out the best book I’ve read in maybe forever. Behind the wheel sat a complete stranger, but climbing into the low seat felt like settling in beside an old friend. Not only did we have a childhood in common, but also this new life of seeing our words reach a vaster audience than either of us thought possible. By the time we got to lunch, we were talking about book tours and film deals and Star Wars and Back to the Future and of course, the DeLorean.

There’s a DVD player in the dash. Ernie fires up the film that transformed the DeLorean from loser to legend while the GPS greets us in K.I.T.T.’s voice. It even says Ernie’s name via a .wav file he hacked into the unit. My overpowering jealousy of Patrick Rothfuss, who has claimed Ernie for his best friend, is hard to suppress. Like me, when Patrick (author of Name of the Wind) read Ready Player One, he was smitten. He felt like this book had been written especially for him. Emailing Ernie, he informed him that they were now best friends. I cursed myself for not thinking of this first.

Ernie and I had lunch and later went to a SXSW screening of MILIAS, a biography of the legendary director of Conan. Dinner and a movie, but neither of us made a move. Ernie was a perfect gentleman, damnit.

And then last night, Ernie showed up for the first book event of my launch tour, which was like Orson Scott Card coming by to see my 3rd grade science fair project. I made sure everyone at BookPeople knew there was a rockstar in the house. People went off in search of his book, only to discover most were already signed.

“If you find one that isn’t, it’s worth a lot of money,” Ernie quipped.

Later, a young reader came up and asked to have his book personalized.


That’s goddamn adorable.

Oddly enough, having a bestselling author and someone I admire in the audience didn’t make the talk more difficult. It made it easier. Ernie sported a disarming and calming grin throughout. I could see him nodding as I described what it’s been like to go from a bookstore employee to a successful writer. Standing behind a podium just like the one I used to drag out and set up for other authors back and my old job, some kind of surreal transformation took place. For a moment or two, it felt natural to be up there. I had the time of my life.

My experience in Austin at SXSW and my first book event at BookPeople couldn’t have kicked off this tour any better. I woke up this morning — the day of WOOL’s bookstore release — feeling refreshed and invigorated. And my time with Ernie gave me a new appreciation for what fans of WOOL must feel like in getting to hang out, come to meet-ups, have lunch, and shoot the shit. Wearing a shy and nervous grin around him was good for me. It was also nice to chat with someone who has gone through an augmented version of what I’m experiencing. To think that the dude is a fan of my work as well is simply humbling beyond belief, but I try not to think about that.

And you know, I’ve decided to be gracious about the Patrick Rothfuss thing. I’m happy for Pat, who claimed Ernie for his best friend before I could get a chance. I don’t mind being Player 3 or Player 4. I could be Questor to their Thor and Merlin. I could be Raphael with those no-reach sais to their Donatello and Leonardo. Just give me a pocket full of quarters.

And besides, Ernie and I will always have Austin. And we’ll always have this:

15 responses to “Ready Player Three (or Four)”

  1. Oh man. I jumped over to Amazon to snatch up such a highly recommended book. $9.99 for the Kindle version! You’ve certainly spoiled us, Mr. Howey. Onto my wish-list it goes, instead of into my shopping cart.

    1. trust me, “Ready, Player One” is the kind of book that you really want the dead tree edition anyway, you will be loaning it to friends for sure! The book is phenomenal. i’m trying very hard not to go off on a general high-priced kindle edition rant right now.

    2. RPO is definitely worth the higher price. It’s one of those books you whip out once a year and read just because you miss being in the story.

  2. Great posting! Sounds like you did have the time of your life. I am glad Texas treated you right! I am also very jealous you got to hang in the DeLorean with a pretty cool guy. And you know what? I could say I am jealous of Ernie for the same reasons.

  3. That was a fun post to read. Thanks for adding those great images. I’m glad to hear everything is going so well. It’s what you deserve after writing such amazing books we love.

  4. Will Swardstrom Avatar
    Will Swardstrom

    I read Ready Player One in November 2011. I loved it so much I gifted it to my brother for Christmas and recommended it to my friends. One of the best books I read in a very long time. I thought I wouldn’t read another book of that caliber for a very long time.

    Then I read Wool. I got the free copy from Amazon, but had been burned by another free e-book the month before, so I put off reading it for a few weeks. When I finally did, I kicked myself for not pulling the trigger quicker. Soon, I’d purchased the full Omnibus. I sent a gift of it when it was the Daily Deal to my father — the man who influenced my taste in science fiction. I’ve talked about my love for Wool just as I did with RP1 and now that I will have a hardcover edition later today, I will have a copy I can lend to the skeptics.
    Thanks for the fantastic world you created and congratulations on this momentous day.

  5. Caroline McIntosh Avatar
    Caroline McIntosh

    What a wonderful account of you and Ernie.. that was so cool to read.. but then you are the real deal, so not surprising I wished the article would go on and on..You have a way of drawing a person into your world, real or fiction.. I congratulate you on all of your success and the excitement that is inherent in the participation of it. You are an amazing writer and I am a die hard fan now, having read your WOOL!! I hope Einaudi comes in handy :) .. and I will definitely read RPO, I want to find out where the DeLorean fits in all of this, lol!

  6. I can’t imagine a better ride for Ernie! Hugh, you should be talking from the top of a spiral stair at these gigs!

  7. I certainly read and enjoyed Ready Player One, but I’m sorry, it can’t hold a candle to Wool. RPO was a carnival ride through my teenage nerd years, and I enjoyed it for that, but it had absolutely no depth whatsoever. Wool is crafted artisan cheese, and RPO is plastic wrapped American singles. Both have their place, but one is made for savoring and the other is just tasty calories. :)

  8. I actually just finished ready player one this weekend – we had a little trip and that is what I brought with me (book-wise). I could not put it down – a wonderful and fun read. It sounds like your tour kick-off started with a bang. Congratulations.

  9. Never been one for books on interwebz, futuristic otherwise, (except Plagarist, of course) but I have to check out RP1 now. If nothing else the nostalgia will be fun, especially for someone who saw all the aformentioned movies in theatres and not just on VHS.

    Oh, and if you like Deloreans that much Hugh, I think you can swing one now:

  10. Thanks for sharing this really cool story Hugh.

    I hadn’t heard of Ready Player One before, but I just got it on Kindle on your recommendation. I already love it!

    Keep up the good work and I hope the rest of the tour goes well.

  11. I’m jealous of you and Ernie both! I’ve had RP1 on my wish list forever now, just waiting for a fiscally responsible opportunity to purchase it. As one commenter said, you spoil us Hugh!

    Any chance you’ll be coming through Utah on your book tour? I know I’d love to shoot the shit with you too! Maybe I’ll just pull a Pat and claim you as my best friend, MLOL! That’s Maniacally Laughing Out Loud, like the character Darkness from the movie legend, only with a little more sinister hand wringing :)

    Well even if I can’t claim you as my best friend, I’ll keep reading for as long as you keep writing. WOOL is by far not only one of the best Science Fiction books I’ve ever read, but one of the best books I’ve read in general. As well as one of my new favorites I, Zombie. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

  12. Great story Hugh. I also have had RP1 on my wish list for quite awhile. Just checked it this weekend to see if the price had dropped. I also checked to see how much it was to add the audio version because I recently started listening to “The Name of the Wind”. I read that book about a year ago and wanted to re-enter the world during workouts. To see you list both of these authors here was very interesting to me to say the least. Fans of Wool should definitely check out “The Name of the Wind”. Keep up the great work Hugh. I am currently reading Third Shift. I think it is my favorite of the Shift trilogy so far. Can’t wait to see how it ends.

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