If you’ve read some of my most recent book reviews, you may have noticed that (lately) I’ve tended to stay within the non-fiction, historical & autobiographical genres. As such, I was dying for a great piece of fiction – a STORY – something I could get lost in. I happily found that escape in this wildly entertaining world created by Ernest Cline; so much so that I realized I was reading it too fast and purposely slowed down in a futile attempt to prolong its inevitable end.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed…nay, loved this book. If you have ever considered yourself to be a nerd, gamer, geek or lover of ’80’s pop references, films and music, I implore you to stop reading this review right now and to go pick up | download a copy of “Ready Player One”…you can thank me later for the resulting nerdgasm you’ll inevitably experience.
If you do not consider yourself to be any of these things – fear not – as the author made the narrative and references perfectly accessible and entertaining, with just the right amount of exposition.
The Matrix + Willy Wonka = Ready Player One
- It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and work and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.
Suddenly the whole world is watching and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
Wade Watts, aka: “Parzival”
Wade Watts, the protagonist, is a poor and overweight kid who lives with his uncaring Aunt in “the stacks“…the not-so-distant-future’s equivalent of a trailer park – wherein the trailers are literally…well, stacked – in an attempt to deal with overcrowding near the outskirts of cities, where the most reliable sources of electricity and Internet connections can be found.
The world is experiencing an energy crisis and record unemployment, crime is rampant and like most everyone else, Wade finds his escape in the OASIS…a vast online virtual reality, in which people control their own self-created avatars (W.o.W style, including the ability to level up your character) to engage in everything from attending school, working, taking a vacation, interacting with others, questing and playing games.
Due to the depressing nature of the real world, the OASIS becomes the place in which billions of people around the planet prefer to exist.
Wade escapes to an abandoned van – his hideout – to adopt his online persona (“Parzival”). He attends school in the OASIS because he has to; for his video console and virtual-reality visor will be taken away if he flunks out and he cannot afford one on his own.
Wade is a very bright kid, hindered only by his circumstances, and he quickly endears himself to the reader because he is witty, smart and easy to identify with. You root for him because the odds are stacked against him – he doesn’t have the money to buy top-of-the-line gear or purchase transport credits to travel extensively within the OASIS – and deep down you know he is smarter and more deserving than others.
The OASIS was created by James Halliday, a brilliant and eccentric man who was obsessed with the 80’s, having grown up during that decade.
Originally intended as a massively multiplayer online game, the OASIS gradually evolves into the globally networked virtual reality that most of humanity now use on a daily basis. It grew into thousands of online “worlds” in which people could interact, travel to, work, play and indulge in virtually (pun intended) countless activities
Want to travel to the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine from Star Wars? Perhaps you would rather hunt down replicants, like Harrison Ford’s character in “Blade Runner?” Maybe just a vacation to a tropical island OR attend public school OR work in a virtual call-center offering OASIS tech-support…you can travel to (or create) any world ever seen in movies, TV shows, literature, your imagination or real life, video games and even music. The OASIS is a staggeringly large universe.
Through the use of a console and various haptic rigs and gear, the user is completely immersed in the OASIS…essentially experiencing it as they would actual reality. The OASIS is free to log into, but costs money to travel or purchase upgrades for your avatar (should you not want to spend countless hours killing NPC’s for measly XP). In fact, OASIS credits carry more value than paper currency and the company that Halliday founded, GSS, is the most valuable company in the world and has made its creator a billionaire many times over.
“Shall We Play A Game?”
Upon his death, Halliday releases a video in which he informs the world that he has hidden an “easter egg” somewhere in the OASIS. In order to find the egg, you must first discover 3 hidden keys, each key containing a riddle to unlock 3 gates (challenges) and each completed gate revealing a clue as to the location of the next key. The person who eventually finds the easter egg will be awarded Halliday’s entire fortune…to the tune of $250 billion dollars.
This results in worldwide pandemonium, as millions of people flood the OASIS in an attempt to find the hidden keys…and eventually the easter egg. However, there is a quirky catch: Halliday was obsessed with the 80’s and therefore his riddles, clues and challenges are all embedded within (awesome) 80’s pop-culture references. As a result, egg hunters (or “gunters,” as they call themselves) begin to pour over every movie, TV show, video game and song from the 80’s, in an attempt to decipher the first clue.
Yet, as years pass without any avatar’s name making it onto the Scoreboard – a site that announces when someone has found one of the keys or cleared any of the gates on their way to finding the easter egg – many become discouraged over time and give up the hunt.
Until one day, when a single name suddenly appears at the top of the Scoreboard…”Parzival”…Wade’s OASIS avatar. And the race is on…
As someone who grew up gaming and came of age in the 80’s, “Ready Player One” was an absolute blast to read. In fact, if either “WarGames”, “Weird Science”, “Better Off Dead” or “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is not on your all-time favorite movies list, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.
This book is filled with so much nostalgic nerd-candy that I dare any self-professed geek to read this book and not giggle knowingly during certain passages. There are references to every gaming console, classic games, popular anime, comics, computer systems, iconic TV shows, John Hughes films and songs that are undoubtedly on everyone’s 80’s playlist – in fact, the author even created a Spotify playlist to act as a soundtrack to the book.
Along the way, you are introduced to other endearing “gunters” such as, Art3mis (Wade’s love interest), Aech, Daito and Shoto, who also find the first key and are closing in on Wade’s heels…not to mention the obligatory evil corporation IOI – and its online army of “sixers” – who will stop at nothing to find the easter egg first and take over the OASIS so that it can further monetize and charge users monthly access to it.
“Ready Player One” was just so much fun to read and was exactly the kind of story I wanted to get lost in. Many of my favorite parts of the story were while trying to decipher the clues for myself, drawing from my own knowledge of the decade. There are also some twists and turns that kept me flipping the pages, wondering what was going to happen next…therefore, kudos to the author for not making it predictable.
This was easily one of my favorite books of the past year. It completely appealed to the raging geek in me and will do the same for those of you who love fun 80’s pop-culture and who also fantasized about owning the hoverboard from, “Back to the Future” or wondered what it would be like to live in the Star Wars universe or who spent countless hours gaming and leveling up.
I give this book 4.5 (out of 5) nerd-boners.
By: Dana Sciandra
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