The year is 2044, and things are not looking so great. Most of humanity is destitute, including overweight teenager Wade Watts, who lives with his aunt and hundreds of other people in “the stacks,” long rows of mobile homes stacked on top of one another and precariously held together with scaffolding. Wade’s only recourse from the shitty regular world is the OASIS, a massive online game that he, like most of the rest of the global population, is jacked into for the majority of each day. Wade attends school in the OASIS, which is also home to some ten thousand planets, housing everything from offices to complete replications of scenes or environments from Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons and more.
The OASIS was created by James Halliday, a Steve Jobs-like genius whose love of his creation is matched only by his love of all things 1980s, a nostalgia that extends to any cultural artifact from the time: movies, music, comic books, videogames, etc. Upon his death, Halliday releases a video will that promises ownership of his company (and a $200+ billion fortune) to whoever can uncover an “easter egg” he’s buried in the game.
Wade has been searching for Halliday’s egg, through his OASIS avatar Parzival, for years, along with an entire culture of equally nerdy “gunters” (shortened version of “egg hunters”) and a more intimidating group called the Sixers, professional egg hunters employed by Innovative Online Industries, a monolithic corporation that wants to take over the OASIS and use it for financial gain.
All of the clues leading to Halliday’s egg are based on the pop culture he so desperately loved, which is why Wade has spent the better part of five years learning everything there is to know about the 1980s and about Halliday himself. It’s that very knowledge, in fact, that leads him to the first puzzle, which he solves. And that is when all hell breaks loose.
I rarely devote so much of a review to summarizing a book’s plot, but the plot of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is so awesome that it’s hard not to share it. The novel has all the elements of a post-apocalyptic science fiction story, with bits of other classic adventures mixed in: It’s sort of The Sims meets Second Life meets Blade Runner meets Total Recall meets A.I. meets Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, which is fine since nearly all of those are mentioned at one point or another.
Ready Player One’s pop culture references are often obscure, so a familiarity with the 80s is helpful but not necessary. Equally impressive is Cline’s grasp of videogame technology, and the lengths he goes to to paint a picture of a world dominated by the OASIS: the importance of Internet speed, the varying costs and benefits of different game hookups, the prominence of entire apartments dedicated to a life spent completely online. Cline has completely thought out the world of Ready Player One, and the biggest draw of the book is getting to peer inside his imagination. The race-to-the-finish central plot, pitting a lowly geek against a multinational corporation, is just icing on the cake.
On the flip side, my objections to Ready Player One were few and far between. The writing is mediocre, and the novel consequently feels a little young adult (though most young adults would get none of the references), but the plot is so intricate that a more sophisticated writing style may have been ill-advised. There were some aspects of the OASIS that I found odd—example: some people still travel via spaceships, so that one might spend 10 real-life hours traveling from one virtual planet to another—and I was also skeptical of the Sixers’ inability to figure out certain Halliday egg clues, despite having an entire company’s worth of resources to investigate the same cultural references that Wade does. But these were all passing thoughts in an otherwise enjoyable read.
I will be sincerely surprised if Ready Player One doesn’t become a movie (some Internet research turned up that Warner Brothers bought the rights two years ago) as even though I loved reading about the OASIS, I can only imagine the fun a James Cameron or Steven Spielberg would have creating it visually. In the meantime, I highly recommend you guys pick up this book, even if you’re not typically a fantasy or sci-fi person. It’s fun and quick and engaging, and despite all of that still manages to make you think about the implications of a society conducted almost entirely online. Implication No. 1? I should probably brush up on my gaming skills.
TITLE: Ready Player One
AUTHOR: Ernest Cline
ALSO WROTE: n/a
SORTA LIKE: Second Life meets The Matrix meets Surrogates
FIRST LINE: “Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest.”