Genre: Science Fiction
Audience: Adult/Young Adult Crossover
Summary: The real world in 2045 is a sad, desolate place of poverty, energy-depletion, and pollution. So is it any wonder that most people spend more time in the MMO virtual reality world of the OASIS than in reality? The OASIS is more than just entertainment; it has pretty much taken over the internet, becoming the preferred online platform for communication, work, and education. It is also the site of a virtual contest with real-world ramifications. When billionaire OASIS creator James Halliday died, he left behind a sort of online treasure hunt, declaring that the first person to solve a series of puzzles, discover three keys, and find the Easter egg hidden somewhere in the vast worlds of the OASIS will inherit his company and his fortune. Within a year, the outside world has immersed itself in all of Halliday's obsessions—most notably a wide range of 1980s pop culture trivia—hoping to find clues to unravel Halliday's first puzzle.
But it is 2045, several years after Halliday's death, before the first key is discovered by an avatar called Parzival and the contest begins in earnest. In real-life, Parzival is 18-year-old Wade Watts, a student who lives in a crammed and precariously stacked mobile home with his less-than-loving aunt. He is obsessed with all things Halliday—from vintage coin-operated video games to Family Ties reruns—and escapes to abandoned van to adopt his online persona. But now that "Parzival" has solved the first clue, the competition to find the egg intensifies. Along with the other scoreboard leaders, Wade now finds himself in mortal danger from a power-hungry corporation willing to do anything to win—even commit murder.
First Line: "Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest."
Ready Player One is a total geek fest. If 80s flicks, classic video games, anime, comics, and Monty Python quotes make you happy, it's definitely the book for you. Of course you don't have to enjoy them all (I score a whopping one out of five) to get a kick out of this fast-paced—sometimes mind-bending—story of an underdog's quest to save the day (and himself!). As I read the book, I found myself downright giddy at times. I by no means recognized all of Cline's 80s references, but many of them (War Games! Better Off Dead! The Back to the Future DeLorean! Schoolhouse Rock! Speed Racer!) put a billboard-sized smile on my face. So, Ready Player One definitely gets an "A" for the 80s nostalgia factor.
But for all its 80s flashback moments, Ready Player One is also a darn good story. It sucks you in, just as OASIS sucks the book's characters away from their reality. It was fun, for a while, to immerse myself in Wade's quest and leave my own world behind. (I guess books are my video games!) Many people claim they read as an escape. This is clearly a primary motivation to Wade's love of videogames and the OASIS:
Descending the network of metal girders had always reminded me of old platform videogames like Donkey Kong or BurgerTime. I'd seized upon this idea a few years earlier when I coded my first Atari 2600 game (a gunter rite of passage, like a Jedi building his first lightsaber.) It was a Pitfall rip-off called The Stacks where you had to navigate through a vertical maze of trailers, collection junk computers, snagging food-voucher power-ups, and avoiding meth addicts and pedophiles on your way to school. My game was a lot more fun than the real thing.Of course, real life also bleeds into Wade's virtual world. It is fascinating how, for me, the characters' virtual reality and their "real lives" became entwined. I was just as invested in the avatars' survival as the characters themselves. Perhaps more so.
Ready Player One isn't a perfect book. The writing was a bit uneven at times (e.g., trivia-laden footnotes pepper the prologue then mysteriously vanish), and the romance between Wade/Parzival and his online crush Ar3mis felt a bit forced. Still, it is a clever, fun read with likeable characters and an intriguing premise. Plus, there's that nostalgia factor :)