Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Publisher: Crown Publishing (RandomHouse/Aug. 16th 2011)
Source: From publisher for review
It’s 2044, and 18 year old Wade Watts lives in “the stacks”, which consists of layer upon layer of trailer homes (some reaching 20 high). Steeped in poverty, his only escape is OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), a virtual world where he can attend school, never get beat up, and has every book, song, or piece of art he could ever imagine at his fingertips. The Great Recession is entering its third decade, and finding a job to help pay for his OASIS travels is pretty much out of the question. Fast food joints have 2 year waiting lists, fossil fuels are dwindling, and the human race is using OASIS more and more to escape from a world that is collapsing all around them.
When the creater of OASIS, the eccentric, 80’s obsessed James Halliday, passes away, he leaves a legacy behind: hundreds of billions of dollars, there for the taking for anyone that can find a series of keys and gates within OASIS, and find the Easter Egg at the end. Millions have tried and failed, and years go by with no progress, the game becoming somewhat of a legend, something never to be solved, until Wade finds the Copper Key. When Wade’s crush, a female blogger named Art3mis, also finds the Copper Key, the race is on, like, well, Donkey Kong (sorry, couldn’t help it.)
Wade instantly becomes a celebrity, and others soon begin nipping at his heels, including IOI, a huge conglomerate bent on taking over OASIS and making it their own money making playground, using any means possible, and I do mean any. True gunters (OASIS freaks), are determined not to let this happen, but with vast resources at IOI’s disposal, they are a real threat, and when they make Wade an “offer he just can’t refuse”, his virtual, and real life may be at stake.
Told from Wade’s point of view, we get a glimpse into a future where a virtual world holds more sway than reality, and human reaction is played out inside an 80’s drenched world where old school video games are the norm, and every tiny detail has meaning. Wade has spent nearly his entire existence memorizing facts from Halliday’s manifesto, Anorak’s Almanac, watching hours and hours of 80’s sitcoms, listening to 80’s music, and soaking up anything else that Halliday has deemed important. Ready Player One is kind of like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” on steroids, and of course, involving millions of players instead of a handful. Yes, Wade’s best friend and crush are avatars, but what is that when you have an endless world at your fingertips, and you can be anything, and anyone, that you want?
One the surface, Ready Player One is a geekfest of the highest order. Children of the 80’s, like me, will thrill at the shear amount of nostalgia that packs these pages, and also at the absolutely wondrous virtual world that the author has created for his characters. The references are a blast, my favorites being a challenge that involves acting out the movie WarGames and a sequence involving a key scene from Blade Runner. Underneath the skin, however, is a story about an insecure, lonely teen that has been raised by a reality that just isn’t real, and who finds out that you really should be careful what you wish for. There’s a heartbreaking love story here too, and some lovely nuance underneath the geek. Ernest Cline’s writing is intricate, sharp and witty, and he delivers a story with plenty of action that will not only excite you with its race to the finish, but also make you think about what it means to be human. The power of friendship and love (even if it’s in virtual reality), and sheer determination are strong themes here, and as you move toward the ending, everything will click together perfectly like Tetris blocks, leaving you pleasantly exhausted and wondering where the time went. Ready Player One is a sci-fi gem you won’t want to miss!