Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
Pub: Arrow Books
Wade Watts has but one escape from his hellish life in a towering trailer park (see the rather wonderful cover), the virtual reality world of OASIS. There’s something grander than merely ducking into an imperative online world though, and that’s a quest.
James Halliday, the creator of OASIS was obsessed with 80s pop culture, an obsession that dominoes out into the world upon his death. Halliday had no heirs, and so in his will left the control of OASIS, his personal fortune and possessions to anyone who can solve the puzzles he has left scattered throughout the virtual world he has created, and find his Easter Egg. Wade, like many others is dedicated to solving these puzzles, yet as we start the story, five years after Halliday’s death the first riddle has yet to be solved.
The 80s theme that so pervades the quest for Halliday’s Easter Egg serves as an interesting device, allowing the book to merge past and future with geekish abandon. There’s inferences on the current state of the world as well, in the vision of what we become. It’s hard to move away from the 80s when considering the plot, and I can’t decide if that’s a fair comment, or just the nearest one to hand given the way the book wears the era. There are huge and evil corporations, high school to survive, and the awkwardness of young romance, a sub-plot that works nicely against the larger story without feeling in any way forced in.
With technology reminiscent of William Gibson’s cyberpunks, nods and knowing winks to games, films, music, and fashion from the era the book is unrepentantly nostalgic. I suspect there is a perfect demographic that this book fits, that experienced the era it harks back to first hand, rather than seeing it diluted through the lens of current pop culture. That said being a little out of that loop hasn’t harmed my enjoyment of the book, although there is a feeling I might have missed references.
Wade feels well realised as a character, and there’s an interesting duality between his progress in OASIS and in the real world. The book handles the virtual landscape well, although I’d be interested to know how it reads to someone unfamiliar with computers, or indeed looking back in the years to come over the technological developments.
Pony up your $1, take your 3 lives, and prepare yourself.