Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
READY PLAYER ONE - Ernest Cline - Cover Image
By Ernest Cline

It is the year 2044, and the end of the world may be very quickly approaching. The environment is shot, the population is fighting for survival, and perhaps worst of all, the 1980s are making a comeback.

The reason for this last part is because reclusive billionaire and techno-genius James Halliday has passed away, and willed his vast fortune and control of his corporation to whoever can solve a series of riddles and locate the Easter egg that he has hidden in his immersive virtual reality world the OASIS, where pretty much everyone in the world lives out the majority of their waking hours. Halliday was a pop culture geek obsessed with the 1980s, the decade of his youth, and so now too are the Egg hunters (or "gunters") who are desperate to complete the quest and seize control of the OASIS before it falls in the hands of an evil corporate conglomerate who wants to pervert the virtual world to make a major profit.

Our hero here is Wade Watts, an underprivileged outcast who finds himself thrust into the limelight when he is the first person to make any progress in the hunt. His online avatar, named Parzival, becomes a celebrity overnight, and suddenly the whole world seems within his grasp. But there are literally thousands of other gunters right on his tail--some friends, some foes, and some of them willing to commit murder both real and virtual to find the egg first.

Ready Player One has been called a "nerdgasm" by science fiction author John Scalzi, and that pretty much sums it up. It is packed to overflowing with references to movies (the work of John Hughes, Ladyhawke), fiction (Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Tolkien), famous geeks (Gary Gygax, Wil Wheaton), comic books (Spider-Man, X-Men), music (Led Zepplin, Devo), television (Star Trek, School House Rock), and of course video games. Lots and lots of video games.

Now, I'm a geek, but I've never been much of a gamer, so I admit that a number of the more esoteric references were lost on me. Still, it was a lot of fun to catch as many of them as I could, and the book wasn't so smarmy that those that went above my head depleted my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Jam packing a decade worth of geekery into a sci-fi scavenger hunt story is, admittedly, something of a gimmick. However, it is a gimmick that worked on me. I was reeled in from the start and had to force myself to stop reading to perform menial tasks like eating, bathing or going to work. I couldn't wait to see how it all turned out, but I didn't want to see it end, either.

This book will definitely be more attractive to those of us who lived through the 80s than those who didn't, but there's still bound to be something of interest here for geeks of all ages. The OASIS is every geek's dream come true, but the year 2044 is still a very long ways away. Until then, we'll have to make do with Ready Player One, and as far as compromises go, that ain't half bad.

--J/Metro

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