There’s a few things I need to say before I start frothing at the mouth about how much I enjoyed reading (well listening to, actually. Come on, the audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton, how could I resist?) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
First, my nerdiness skews more books (duh) and music than it does video games and movies. Second, I’m not a huge fan of Sci-Fi or future dystopia novels. Third, and this is a doozy, I’ve never seen any of the StarWars or a Lord of the Rings or Star Trek or Indiana Jones movies. My pop culture proclivities skew more John Hughes than George Lucas.
Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, I’m going to say that I loved this book. Loved it. Even with my nerdy proclivities in a different realm this Sci-Fi, 80s-loving, videogame-worshipping novel was so much fun that I didn’t even mind that I probably missed half the references.
So the year is 2044 and things on Earth have steadily declined — over population, climate change wreaking havoc, unemployment rampant, famine — but instead of rising up and fighting a lot of people have been lulled into a complacence by living most of their lives in the OASIS. A virtual reality/videogame that everyone on the planet plays. Seriously, it’s like Earth 2.0 — school, government, shopping, all that jazz.
The OASIS was created by computer genius and reclusive bazillionaire James Halliday. Upon his death Halliday releases a video telling people about a hidden Easter Egg in the OASIS. Whoever can unearth the three keys, clear three gates, and find the Egg will inherit all of Halliday’s money.
This sets off a worldwide hunt for the Egg. The hunt’s progress is shown on Halliday’s website in the form of an old-fashioned videogame high score list. It’s not easy, and for five years the score never changes, and a lot of people have just given it up, writing the whole thing off as an elaborate prank.
But not eighteen-year-old high school student and gunter (egg hunter) Wade Watts. Wade’s got it tough, his parents are dead, he lives in the stacks (where mobile homes and trailers are literally stacked upon each other) in a trailer with his aunt, her boyfriend, and about eight other people. He often sleeps curled up next to the dryer.
Wade’s got no money, a bad home life and his OASIS avatar, Parzival is a low-level nobody. That is until Wade finds the copper key and clears the first gate, skyrocketing him to the top of the High Score List and right into the crosshairs of the evil IOI corporation. IOI wants uses all kinds of dirty and dirtier tricks to find the Egg, because they’re greedy capitalist bastards who want full control of the OASIS.
The hunt for Halliday’s Egg is exciting, filled with 80s trivia (because Halliday loved the 80s* when he was a teenager) and along the way Wade manages to make some friends Aech and the lovely Art3mis, a blogger Wade’s had a crush on for ages. But the hunt and the bazillion-dollar prize puts friendships to the test.
Gah! Ready Player One is so good and so fun. There’s definitely a tipping point in the novel where once you reach a certain chapter or scene or page, you will not be able to put it down. I spent about five hours on a Sunday listening to the book and pondering just driving to the closest bookstore to pick up an actual copy of the book since I knew I’d be able to read it faster. But that would have required me to stop listening to the book which was kind of a deal breaker.
I think what I liked best about the novel is that shit happens. Cline zags when you were sure he would have zigged. It’s unpredictable, which makes me it fun. Plus, there’s actual action and not just ’emotional’ action. I’m at a point in reading this year that if I happen upon one more book about some New Yorker moping around New York reveling in all the New Yorkness, I will die.
And then you’ll have to put Ready Player One in my hands and I’ll get a free life.
*Incidentally, I have to say I was a little unnerved to realize that James Halliday was born the same year I was (1972) and they always talked about how old he was and ailing and all that. Because, dude, seriously, the book is entirely too much fun to make me think about my own mortality. It totally harshed the the buzz.