I finished Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One a few weeks ago, but if I’d written this post then, I would have come off like a squealing 12-year-old at a Bieber concert. So in the interest of maintaining my professional decorum, I gave myself some time to chill the frak out.
Because I loved this book. Really, really loved it. It’s set in a dystopian America in the year 2044, where most people are dead broke and living in city slums or “stacks”—trailer parks where the trailers are stacked dangerously high in the interest of saving space. However, there also exists a virtual reality, the OASIS, in which nearly everyone in the world works, plays, and attends school. Friends are avatars who you interact with every day, but may never actually see in person. Virtual travel costs virtual money and occurs via virtual vehicles.
When OASIS creator James Halliday dies, he leaves behind a video game-style scavenger hunt, the winner of which will inherit his multi-billion-dollar fortune as well as ownership of the massive virtual world. Our hero, 18-year-old Wade Watts, joins the millions of gamers worldwide who join the hunt for the virtual keys to the ultimate prize.
Halliday came of age in the 1980s, so most of the scavenger-hunt clues and games are related to movies, videogames, and music of the era. Wade and his fellow hunters become experts on 1980s pop culture to get into Halliday’s head and decipher his puzzles. For instance, Wade’s obsessive knowledge of the movie War Games and the Rush album 2112 turn out to be valuable skills in his quest.
Of course, as in any good ’80s action story, there is an evil corporation that is looking to beat our hero and take over the (virtual) world. As the end of the contest grows closer, the stakes grow higher in the virtual scavenger hunt and in some cases, have real-life consequences.
Ready Player One is funny, fast-paced, and clever, and I might had shed a tear here and there. (I admit to nothing.) It’s Cline’s first novel, although he has written numerous spoken-word pieces and screenplays, including the hilarious indie Fanboys.
If ’80s pop culture isn’t your gig, then this probably isn’t the book for you—although I think that sci-fi/fantasy fans of all ages will appreciate this great yarn. As a sf/f-loving child of the acid-wash decade, I adored every page of it. Warner Brothers has reportedly secured the movie rights, so read it now and be ahead of the curve!
(Side note: While researching Cline’s publishing history for this post, I found out that he owns a DeLorean—which he has modified to look like Doc Brown’s time machine in Back to the Future! How awesome is that? Now I love him more.)