Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In 2044, humans have pretty much murdered the Earth.  Nearly all the fossil fuel has been depleted, leading to a serious energy crisis; the environment is shot to hell what with climate change, people are starving, plants and animals are dying off in record numbers, the seas are rising.  It's a crappy world outside and so most people, if they've got the means, spent most of their time in the OASIS - a massive virtual reality program.  School is taught there, people's jobs (if they have them) are there, and in your free time you can live and game in limitless scenarios.  The guy who created OASIS, James Halliday, was an eccentric genius, obsessed with the 1980s.  When Halliday died without heirs, he launched a game, hiding an Easter egg in a series of complex puzzles located throughout the OASIS.  The person who finds the Easter egg gets all of Halliday's money.

Wade Watts, Ready Player One's narrator, avatar name: Parzival, is one of tens of thousands of gunters ("egg-hunters") who are obsessed with the quest.  He and his online friends - no one ever meets each other in real life, because real life is too depressing - have spent years delving into '80s pop culture trivia: movies, music, arcade games, video games, RPGs.  But when Parzival unexpectedly finds and solves the first puzzle, the game is on like Donkey Kong and it's a race to the finish.  Not everyone will make it, either: a powerful corporation has hired hundreds and hundreds of gunters whose only job is to find the egg, and they will stop at nothing - not even murder - to reach the prize first.

Ready Player One is written by Ernest Cline, screenwriter of Fanboys, the 2009 movie about Star Wars fanatics.  Cline clearly knows his 1980s pop culture as this first novel of his is stuffed to the gills. I grew up in the 80s so I recognized a lot of the references, although since I am not nor have ever been a gamer I missed a lot of those.  At first the 80s overload seems a little forced, like Cline is just listing stuff to prove how much he knows.  But as the novel progresses, the info-dump becomes more organic.  It's a fun little book, nothing too strenuous, a combination quest/coming-of-age tale flavored with just enough science fiction and fantasy.  I did feel like it was written to be made into a movie but I can't imagine trying to secure the rights to all the books, music, movies, games, etc., dropped into the story.

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