Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Broadway Books, 2012.
Ready Player One is about a kid named Wade who competes in a video game contest. But it isn’t just a video game contest. The OASIS, a virtual-reality-massive-online-video game has become more of a reality than real life for many people living in the year 2044. And when the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, dies, a video is released of him announcing the contest. While coding the OASIS, Halliday left behind an Easter egg. To find the egg, one must solve puzzles and find hidden keys and undertake whatever tasks and challenges he hid within the game. Whoever is able to locate the 3 keys and find the Easter egg will be the winner. The winner not only wins the vast fortune Halliday left behind, but control and ownership of the entire OASIS. The game is on.
Wade is what they call a “gunter” (abbreviation of “egg hunter”). Gunters are basically uber nerds obsessed with finding the egg. They study every aspect of Halliday’s life to see if they can uncover clues about where he would have hidden the keys. Halliday was obsessed with 80’s pop culture, so Ready Player One is FILLED with references to movies, TV shows, video games, books, and music that Wade knows backwards and forwards from spending his whole life studying. Most of the clues end up being references to old video games or movies, so the book is a gold mine for people who love the 80’s, video gaming, or just nerd culture in general.
The story moves along fast and is very exciting; it’s definitely one of those books you cannot put down because every step of the way you are waiting to find out the answer to another clue or plot twist. The story is narrated from Wade’s perspective, and because I grew up around such nerds all my life, I feel like I know him. His voice is spot-on-teenage-boy gamer. I’m sure Ernest Cline didn’t need to work too hard to write like that, because he probably is Wade. The book is a love letter to all the things he was probably obsessed with growing up (and still is today – hell, his author photo on the back is a pic of him standing next to a Delorean.)
You definitely would find more enjoyment in the book if you understand basic gaming structures and culture and also know your pop culture. I myself missed a lot of the references because many of them are pretty obscure…I definitely got the most famous ones, and whenever I did, it added an extra level of enjoyment to my reading. Here’s a quick list of some of the things he references, so you can get an idea: Star Wars, Firefly, Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons, War Games, Monty Python, the band Rush, LOTS of old arcade games, old text-based rpg games, several animes, Schoolhouse Rock, the list goes on and on and on…the entire book is a romp through nerd culture and it is mind-explodingly-awesome.
It’s an adventure story, so it’s not intended to be super deep or thought-provoking. But the thing that was actually quite interesting to me was the society in the book. The early chapters do a great job of explaining why society has deteriorated so much by 2044, which is basically because all the shitty things currently going on in the world right now were left to continue to get shitty. The energy crisis has totally messed up everything, most people are jobless and living in squalor, while a small minority is wealthier than sin; the education system has failed, and most people have resorted to educating themselves on the OASIS schools or not educating themselves at all, etc., etc. It’s obviously hyperbolic and dystopia-like, but like all good dystopias, it’s not a far cry from where our world is now.
Net neutrality also is an issue hinted to within the plot. While most gunters searching for the egg either work alone or in organized clans, there is another group out to win the fortune and control over the OASIS: Innovative Online Industries. They are the largest internet service provider in the world and are basically in control of everything but the OASIS. The OASIS has become the only saving grace and escape from reality for people in this shitty world, and if the evil IOI corporation wins control of it, they will make it impossible to afford, fill it with advertising, and use it to promote their own corporate agenda. Which would be bad. The thing is, the multi-billion-dollar corporation can afford to have thousands of employees whose sole purpose is to find the egg, so beating them to it seems nearly impossible. Nearly…
Have I sold you yet?? I give this book 5 stars without question. Highly entertaining. Apparently Spielberg has the movie rights, but despite it being Spielberg, it’s going to be difficult to make the movie as good as the book because of the amount of detail it contains. Though I couldn’t imagine it being in better hands.