It is infrequent that I find a book that so readily captures my mind, spirit, and heart. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is not so much a book you read, as a book that basically reads itself. I found myself racing through it, anxious to find out what happens next and giddy in a way I have not been in a long while. I would describe my passion in reading this book akin to how I feel when reading Harry Potter. This is the highest praise I can award any work of fiction.
The world of Ready Player One takes place in a not-so-distant dystopian future in which the world’s fossil fuels have been seriously depleted. Poverty is everywhere and the quality of life for many Americans and people the world over is pretty bad. But at least there is the OASIS. Created by video game genius and notorious recluse James Halliday, the OASIS is a completely immersive, interactive digital environment that has in many ways superceded reality not only in the United States, but also the world over. Upon his death, Halliday announced a contest, an Easter egg of sorts hidden inside the OASIS. The first person to complete the entirety of the challenge would inherit his entire fortune (a massive multibillion dollar fortune) and control of the most powerful technology in the world.
Here enters our hero Wade Watts, aka username Parzival. He is the quintessential geek gamer, a bit overweight, a bit friendless (at least in the real world), but he’s very good at what he does. Stranded in the Stacks (mobile homes stacked upon each other in garish rows) with no friends and nothing to do (besides attend school within the OASIS public school system), Parzival spends all of his time in the escape of the OASIS, playing games, mastering them, watching 70s and 80s TV and movies, memorizing facts, and doing anything he can to be a master Gunter (or Egg Hunter, those people completely dedicated to attempting to find Halliday’s egg). He is a plethora of fun facts and practically a Halliday historian.
The novel is essentially Willy Wonka meets The Matrix, as quoted by USA Today. Wade Watts has got a golden ticket, his brains, and his technological know-how. He is the first person to find the copper key, the first in a series of three keys that open three gates. Throughout the book there are a series of challenges combined with intense amounts of pop culture and trivia. There is so much in this book; allusions to songs by They Might Be Giants, 80s music and movies, sitcom television, but more than any of that it is a love letter to the video game. The factual history of video games comes up in parallel with the fictional history that Cline invents, all of which is engaging and fascinating.
The OASIS itself is a compelling facet of the book. Reading about its hundreds of thousands of planets and worlds (exact recreations of Middle Earth, Narnia, Star Wars planets, and so much more) is enough to make any avid geek salivate. I couldn’t help but dream of being able to play such a comprehensive game myself. Though to call it a game is understatement. In the world Cline creates, the OASIS is a way of life and one in which most of the planet is dedicated to and best of all it is completely open, customizable, and free to access. The level of detail Cline imbibes this digital world with is key in making it real and enrapturing the reader. It also acts as an excellent parallel to the deterioration of the actual world.
The novel is chilling in that regard, portraying a dark future that doesn’t seem impossible, but in that future there is also the promise of technology, a technology that could be championed or abused. The focus of the novel is on the power play between the Gunters (and our hero) and those termed the Sixers, drones of employees from the Oology division of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the soulless corporation that provides most of the world’s Internet service and communications technology, that want to find the egg and utterly privatize (and ostensibly ruin) the OASIS.
The novel also addresses the problem of identity in the digital world. In the OASIS you can be whoever you want to be and do so with utter anonymity. And yet friendships and relationships occur under this void of truth. The paradigm of whether you are the same person online as offline is called into question, as well as the whole issue of anonymity on the Internet. I would say this is a novel that certainly backs up the validity, meaningfulness, and importance of online friendships.
Ready Player One is an amazing adventure story packed with so much pop culture and video game trivia that it’s fit to bursting. I cannot stress enough how much I loved this book. It was so much fun to read and Wade was such a great character to inhabit. I give it five stars, two thumbs way way up, and all the recommendations and praise I can possibly bestow. I don’t even know what you’re still doing here right now. Please go out, find a copy, and be delighted.
Until next time.