So, after reading Ready Player One, it turns out I’m a geek. I suspected I was, since I’ve always had a fondness for all things geeky. But although I was never really into video games (I do remember, however, obsessively playing a game called “Castle” sometime around 1988 or ’89. It was loaded on my computer at work and my coworker Dilip and I played it every chance we got), I realize now that it is possible to geek out over reading about people playing video games. If you aren’t a geek now, I guarantee you will be after reading this fantastic debut by Ernest Cline.
Ready Player One takes place in 2044, where a desolate Earth has fallen on hard times that feel very familiar: fossil fuels are all but used up, the predicted effects of global warming have finally come to pass, and the economy has gone to hell in a hand basket. The world is in the midst of the Global Energy Crisis, and Wade Watts, our eighteen-year-old hero, is struggling to survive in “the stacks,” a low-income housing area consisting of hundreds of mobile homes stacked on top of one another, just outside of Oklahoma City. Life is grim, and most people spend their waking hours inside the OASIS, an intricately constructed virtual reality world where every bit of 80’s pop culture has been lovingly recreated. Here avatars are free to explore the galaxy, play video games, slay opponents, and earn credits by collecting magical objects and winning games. Wade’s avatar, Parzival, like many others, is obsessed with finding Halliday’s Easter egg, which has been hidden somewhere inside the OASIS by James Halliday, the brilliant and eccentric creator of the game who died five years earlier. Because finding the egg first means acquiring Halliday’s fortune and control of the OASIS, Parzival spends his days learning every possible bit of minutia about the 80’s, hoping he will stumble upon something that will unravel the first clue. Pursued by “Sixers,” the identical employees of Innovative Online Industries, who are collectively trying to find the egg and gain power of the OASIS for nefarious purposes, Parzival and his avatar competitors Aech and Art3mis race to find the egg. But when the danger of the OASIS spills over into Wade’s real life, Wade joins forces with his friends to try to stop the Sixers from getting to the egg first, win the prize, and save the world.
If you think this plot seems overly complex, then you would be right. Ready Player One is stuffed with so much information that I marveled at Parzival’s (and Cline’s) exhaustive knowledge of the 80’s. (In fact, I’m pretty sure the aforementioned “Castle” makes an appearance somewhere in this book.) And this review barely scratches the surface. Dive into the story on your own and you will discover a story driven by frenetic energy, likable characters, and enough suspense to keep you going for the rest of 2011. Add in some social commentary and witty dialog, and you’ve got a winning combination. Will the good guys win? Will Parzival ever meet Art3mis in real life? Will the coin Parzival won at Pac-Man figure into the final showdown? You’ll just have to read to find out.
Ready Player One is a wild and exhausting romp through time and space, and the most fun I’ve had reading in a long time. If you love the 80’s (and even if you don’t), you will find this action-packed trip down memory lane an unforgettable experience. So stop what you are doing right now and Go. Read. This. Book.