Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

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Author’s website
Publication date – August 16, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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 for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

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.

Thoughts: For anyone who identifies as a good and who has fond memories of the 1980s and 1990s, then this is the book for you. Ready Player One combines modern gamer fiction with countless 80s and 90s pop culture references to leave you with a thrilling nostalgic ride through a futuristic virtual world.

The world that Cline created is not an unfamiliar one. It assumes the rise of online gaming continues and that it eventually becomes, essentially, a reality in its own right, allowing for user education, commerce, interaction, all the stuff that we do in our day-to-day lives. It isn’t surprising that the ultimate online gaming world in this book, the OASIS, is preferable to the real world that contains fuel and food shortages, rising violence, and an almost unprecedented level of corporate corruption.

So when it’s revealed that the dying wish of the creator of the OASIS is to hold a contest in the virtual world, and the winner gets his entire fortune, it’s also no surprise that millions of people jump on the chance! The hero of the tale, Wade, is part of a group of people known as gunters, short of “egg hunters”, who are looking for this Easter Egg hidden within the massive virtual world.

Cline shows his skill here not necessarily with the fact that he build this world, but that he effectively used dozens of world that others before him built. From Star Wars to obscure tokusatsu shows, Cline took bits and pieces of various realities, mashed them together inside the concept of the OASIS, and then went to town with it. The result could have been utter chaos, but instead functioned well within fairly simple rules and guidelines that were not at all unbelievable to set up.

Interestingly, this book was not a cautionary tale nor a glorious expression of love for online gaming and virtual interaction. Both sides of the coin are shown. On one hand, the virtual world allows for hours of entertainment for the masses, allows a virtual economy to affect the real world (when was the last time you paid your rent by slaying goblins, huh?), and a great chance for people to gain excellent educations regardless of their location. The classic negatives are presented here, too, by showing Wade gaining weight and becoming unhealthy from the sedentary lifestyle he leads while trying to win the contest, and there’s the usual reaction of surprise when people find out that others look nothing like their avatars. But overall, the OASIS was presented as neither ideal or corrupt. It simply was, which was exactly what it was supposed to be.

The never-ending hit of nostalgia I felt while reading this book was amazing, refreshing, and a load of fun. It’s not a heavy read, though it does have its moments of being downright disturbing in places (the way a megacorporation has the legal right to essentially force people into slavery to repay their debts is one case that comes instantly to mind). It feels a lot like a game, if truth be told. Fun, action-packed, entertaining, but not without a large amount of the little details and depths that make such games stand apart from their rivals. As far as gamer fiction goes, this is one of the better reads, and I highly recommend you read it if you get the chance.

And if you a don’t, a grue will eat you.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

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