Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune – and remarkable power – to whoever can unlock them. For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved – that of the late twentieth century… And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt – among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life – and love – in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
I absolutely loved this book. It has elements of fantasy, but I would say it’s mostly science-fiction, which I haven’t read much of, which made this a new reading experience for me.
I have written before about my love for dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories, so right from the beginning, I was intrigued. Wade Watts is a high-school student, whose parents died when he was young. When the novel begins, he lives with his aunt in a trailer, along with other people who rent out sections of the trailer. He attends school and hangs out with Aech, his only friend, in the virtual world of the OASIS.
James Halliday’s death was major news, especially once his virtual will revealed that he had hidden three puzzles (referred to as easter eggs, which, in the video game world, are intentional hidden messages, jokes, or events) throughout the OASIS, and that whoever finds them all and solves the puzzles will inherit his entire fortune, along with his OASIS avatar’s powers and abilities. Wade devotes most of his time to searching for eggs, and eventually finds the first one. The discovery sets off a chain of events that leave Wade in danger.
Without revealing too much of the plot, I think I can safely say that Wade decides that, for his own safety and to protect the OASIS from large corporations who would monetize it, he must find the other two keys and solve their puzzles, before anyone else can.
There were a lot of things that I loved about this book. I found Wade an easy character to relate to, and given the tragedies in his young life, he was very easy to root for, as well. I liked the futuristic setting, and the premise that reality had become so miserable for most people that they chose to spend most of their time in a virtual world, where they could be anyone and do anything.
The worlds of the OASIS are very vividly described, and I really enjoyed the vastness and variety of the worlds. I also liked the action sequences in the book. Because the worlds in the OASIS are so varied, the types of combat that Wade (as his avatar, Parzival) encounters are varied, as well. I liked the way the author was able to mix things up like that, and do it in a way that fit with the story.
Because I love video games, I loved all the references to gaming that are scattered throughout the novel. The majority of game and pop-culture references are from the 1980’s, and since I was born in the early 80’s, some of these were before my time. I was familiar with most references, although I could see how not understanding many of them would interfere with enjoyment of the story. The book comes across as the author’s homage to his favourite games, movies, television shows, and songs of his youth and of early geek culture.
I think if you are a fan of science fiction, you can enjoy this book even if you aren’t a video game player, and vice versa. I really loved this book, and could not put it down. It was just so much fun to read! I am definitely recommending this one, although if you aren’t a science fiction or video game fan (or familiar with any 80’s pop-culture), you may have a tough time with this one.However, I still think it’s worth a read!