Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is a geek's love letter to 1980s pop culture.  Set about thirty years in the future, the book paints a depressing picture of the state of the world.  "Ongoing energy crisis.  Catastrophic climate change.  Widespread famine, poverty, and disease.  Half a dozen wars..."  A mass exodus from rural areas has led to an influx into cities.  To "solve" the housing problem this created, mobile home parks started building up in towers several dozen mobile homes high, appropriately called "the stacks."  Wade, our protagonist, is an orphan who lives in the stacks in Oklahoma with his antagonistic and unpleasant aunt, avoiding her whenever possible and attending virtual school via OASIS (Ontologically Anthropomorphic Sensory Immersive Simulation).

OASIS is, well, everything.  It's an enormous multiplayer online game system, a virtual reality that reaches around the globe, a free library containing every book ever written, a daily escape from a dismal reality, and the source of James Halliday's great wealth.  James Halliday died with no heirs, leaving his fortune - and control of OASIS - as the grand prize in an Easter egg hunt of gigantic proportions outlined in a five-minute video broadcast after his death.

Wade takes on the challenge as do thousands, if not millions, of other egg hunters, or "gunters" for short.  They rewatch every Molly Ringwald film and Family Ties episode, master ancient video games like Joust and Adventure, memorize the lyrics to every Rush song - looking for clues to the elusive three keys Halliday dangled in front of them.  Years later, no one has had any success, until Wade stumbles on the solution to the first clue.  That's when the troubles begin.

Of course, there's the big bad corporate enemy Innovative Online Industries (IOI) who works against the individualistic spirit of the game by hiring gamers as pawns to collaborate and pass on their winnings to the company.  IOI and everyone who works for them is thoroughly despised by all true gunters, but they prove a formidable foe, determined to gain control of the all-powerful OASIS.  In the meantime, friendships are made virtually and IRL, romance blossoms, and geeks rejoice.

Mr. Cline stuffs so many classic sci-fi and fantasy favorites into this book that there's something for everyone: Voltron, Pern, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Mechagodzilla, Lord of the Rings, Firefly, Star Trek...the list goes on and on.  But he also grounds his characters in their current reality.  It's hard to make this point without giving away spoilers, but trust me: he comes down on the side of reality.  James Halliday provides this recorded advice: "I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world.  I didn't know how to connect with the people there.  I was afraid, for all of my life.  Right up until I knew it was ending.  That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it's also the only place where you can find true happiness.  Because reality is real."

A fun, quick read - I finished it in a single day - Ready Player One is a great nostalgic escape.

(In a charming bit of mocking geek self-awareness, Wil Wheaton - who played the precocious Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation and is mentioned in the book as a "geezer" who has been elected as the VP of the Oasis User Council for more than a decade - narrates the audiobook.  While I didn't listen to it, my husband did and said the narration couldn't have been more perfectly cast.)

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
ISBN: 9780307887436
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoveraudiobook, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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