Written by: Ernest Cline
Synopsis: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.
A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?
I had never heard even the teeniest inkling of info about this book until Laura mentioned she was reading it and everyone was like "IT IS SO GOOD" and I was like "hmmmm, colour me intrigued". And then I read Laura, Alley and Alice's reviews and I thought " yup, this sounds like the book for me". But then I sort of forgot about it. Not for long mind you, but I was distracted enough that I didn't race onto The Book Depository and buy a copy. If I hadn't headed to my Sydney holiday at around this time it's possible this book would have ended up earning a permanent place on my TBR, but fortunately I happened to stop into the greatest of all bookstores (Kinokuniya) and it was right there. Right by the entrance, in a neat little stack basically daring me to buy it. And I don't let dares pass me by (actually I do, buy-this-book dares are about the only ones I'm brave enough to do) so I snatched that little baby up and took it home. And then uni stuff happened, and Laura warned me about how addictive it is so I decided to keep it as a reward for meeting my huge deadline. That deadline was last Tuesday, and by Tuesday night I was well and truly under the spell of Ernest Cline and the pop-culturaliest book that ever did be. And by 2.30 Thursday morning I had finished it.
And it was good. Oh my god, was it good. It was an extremely FUN read, probably the most fun I've had reading a book in a long time and the first book in even longer that I honestly considered putting down because I wanted it to last while also obsessively turning page after page because I just couldn't wait. And I didn't even peek ahead, which I almost always do. It's just a genuinely enjoyable read full of nerdy quotes and references to obscure (and not so obscure) 80s games, movies, songs, and other junk while somehow managing to never feel too Frankenstein-y. I guess it's probably to do with the writer being a major 80s geek himself, and pouring his love and obsession into his book - but it's still a feat that deserves much praise, because there aren't too many authors who can work in this many references and not feel like you're reading the question cards of an 80s edition of Trivial Pursuit.
So basically this book is a John Hughes coming of age story combined with a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with a little synth-heavy music thrown in for good measure. Wade (known as Parzival) is living a shitty life in an even shittier world. All the things going wrong in the world right now, famine, global warming, war, the economic meltdown, have finally come to a head in the not-to-distant future, and the world has chosen to retreat into a video game. Released in 2012, the OASIS is the ultimate in virtual reality, and in the future school, work, and all free time is spent revelling in a world that couldn't be. The creator of this program, James Halliday, was a sort of video game prodigy and on his deathbed announced his final game- a quest to win the ownership of the OASIS, and all of his fortune. Wade is just one of the many people trying to win that prize, and it's his journey from solving the first clue to the home stretch that we follow in Ready Player One.
OASIS is such a phenomenally awesome (though not new) concept. When you're plugged in you can visit a universe of planets. Some are made to replicate the tv canon of sci fi worlds (Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, BSG), while others are designed to mimic the cosy suburban life of Earth as it was. You can battle creatures to raise your level and take quests to find magical items to add to your inventory. You can visit dance clubs which have impossible gravity fields and dance floors in the middle of the air. You can make your avatar just like you or you can make them taller, stronger, beardier. It's basically your average game of Dungeons and Dragons (or similar RPG games) in a vitual space and I TOLD YOU D&D WAS COOL. I can't really blame people for retreating into this bliss, especially when there is no sign-up cost and you can get the virtual reality kit free when you sign up for school. If I was living in a world that was made up of stacks and stacks of mobile homes and all sense of decency and democracy had vanished I'd probably be the first one in there from sun up to sun down. But I also really like that amid Wade living it up virtual style, the implications of living this kind of virtual life are also raised. Aside from the fat, pale nerd kid living in their parent's basement issue, there are the indented workers, people who have raised horrendous debts in the OASIS and to work it off basically live as slaves working for the largest ISP organisation in America. These issues are woven into the refence-laden quest and help move it from Awesome Book to Awesome Book with a Message (sort of).
I'm not going to bother mentioning any of the flaws in this book, first because they're pretty minor and second, this was Ernest Cline's first book - so the awesomeness far outweighs any novice mishaps with style and exposition. But also, I don't really care. When a book is this much fun, and has you reading well past the time you're normally counting Zzzzz's it doesn't really matter if a few plot holes come along, or certain characters are a little questionable (Art3mis, I'm looking at you). There are bits of Messages and Points and what-not, but they aren't really the point. They're the milk with the cocoa-pops. Technically (mostly) good for you, but not why you poured the bowl in the first place.
Printed on my cover is a quote from USA Today which says that this book is "Willy Wonka meets the Matrix". And that is pretty perfect. It's fun, and fast-paced (around the occasional info-meteor) and the stakes are high and it's quirky and technical and very in-the-know. The references reach pretty wide at times, plucking from literature, technology, film and music (mostly 80s but ranging from 60s to 00s) but really, it's very possible that you'd end up feeling like you were reading a different language if you weren't familiar with the main reference points. But even when I hit a reference that I didn't get, I never felt like the book was lording that over me, instead Ernest Cline, much like the wizardly James Halliday wants to share his favourite things, he wants you to learn about them and get equally addicted. Basically this book is the internet. The internet in book form. The internet in book form following the structure of an 80s film. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE HUH?