My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
They say that in the past, even the nostalgia is better. Ready Player One challenges that assumption and nearly turns 80s pop culture nostalgia into an art form in the process. In the near future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, but only online.
Our hero, Wade Watts, is a standard issue geeky teenager. He lives with his aunt and her boyfriend of the moment in the “Stacks”, a series of trailers piled on top of each other in towers that are every bit as safe as that sounds. Life in the mid-twenty-first century has taken a serious dive. Oil has run out and the global economy has collapsed. Reality, as they say, bites. Wade in particular has a lot to contend with: Poverty, an aunt who took him just for the extra government assistance and his invisibility to the opposite sex. It’s no wonder he prefers retreating into the OASIS.
Years before, billionaire game designer James Halliday created the OASIS, a virtual reality where literally anything can be created. Picture everything Second Life has the potential to deliver. Entire planets based on movies like Star Wars and Dune as well as role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, exist in the OASIS. If you’ve got the credits, you can buy your own X-Wing fighter, flying DeLorean, or even a dragon. In no time, OASIS grew from a gaming platform to the place where people conduct business, hold meetings, and attend school by logging on the virtual world.
Upon his death, however, Halliday left a pre-recorded message in his will: He’s hidden a series of keys in the OASIS and whoever can find them all and makes it to the Gate, will inherit not only his entire
fortune, but control of the OASIS itself. To find the keys, one must solve a series of riddles which leads the player through challenges that include deciphering Devo lyrics, playing a virtual version of an old D&D module, and reenacting scenes from War Games.
Needless to say, with a prize that big, everyone is a player. This includes an evil corporation that cheats by using bots and hired guns to feed answers to their virtual avatars and have no problem killing people in the real world to get what they want.
At first blush, Wade doesn’t seem to have a chance. An impoverished, overweight high school student, Wade can’t even afford the teleportation fees to leave the virtual world containing his high school. But Wade has spent his entire life studying the history and preferences of his hero. There isn’t a game, movie, song, or TV show from the 80s that Wade hasn’t desiccated an analyzed in order to figure out the first clue. Then, against all odds, Wade does it and becomes the first person to find the bronze key.
After that, the race is on as Wade, with the sometime help of other top gamers, tries to get to the Gate before the bad guys do.
If you remember the 80s and have fond memories of leather ties, high tops, leg warmers, and the days when MTV actually stood for “Music Television”, you’ll love Ready Player One.