books, Debut Novel, Reading, Science Fiction

“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

“My generation had never know a world without the OASIS. To us, it was much more than a game or an entertainment platform. It had been an integral part of our lives for as far back as we could remember. We’d been born into an ugly world, and the OASIS was our one happy refuge. The thought of the simulation being privatized and homogenized by IOI horrified us in a way that those born before its introduction found difficult to understand. For us, it was like someone threatening to take away the sun, or charge a fee to look up at the sky.”

IMG_0815It is the not-so-distant future, a world of utter chaos and dystopian desolation, in which Wade Watts, better known by his avatar Parzival, is the prototypical geek, a kid much more comfortable in virtual reality than in, well, reality. Wade is an impoverished, hard-used orphan living in the laundry closet of his aunt’s trailer and spending as many hours as possible every day and night exploring virtual worlds and building his considerable expertise in gaming, coding, and all things 1980s. You see, in the midst of a rapidly unraveling world, there is a believably ubiquitous technology – a virtual reality massive in scope and unlimited in possibilities. This virtual utopia – OASIS – is the dominant reality; people go to school, find work, develop real estate, even fall in love, all under the auspices of this VR world, behind a visor and physically isolated from one another.

“I quickly lost track of time. I forgot that my avatar was sitting in Halliday’s bedrom and that, in reality, I was sitting in my hideout, huddled near the electric heater, tapping at the empty air in front of me, entering commands on an imaginary keyboard. All of the intervening layers slipped away, and I lost myself in the game within the game.” 

The reader joins this world as the creator of OASIS has died, leaving a world-wide contest to inherit his entire fortune.

“[James Halliday] was a god among geeks, a nerd über-deity on the level of Gygax, Garriott, and Gates. He’d left home after high school with nothing but his wits and his imagination, and he’d used them to attain worldwide fame and amass a vast fortune. He’d created an entirely new reality that now provided an escape for most of humanity. And to top it all off, he’d turned his last will and testament into the greatest videogame contest of all time.”

“Ready Player One” is fast-paced science fiction and a treasure trove for gamers and other sci-fi nerds. But you don’t have to be a Role Playing Game aficionado (or even a fan) to find joy and endless entertainment in this book. “Ready Player One” is a giddy festival of 1980s nostalgia, and if you have any personal experience of or even a fleeting interest in the pop culture of that iconic era, this rollicking story will hold you rapt. No sci-fi maven myself, I am a bonafide nerd and a child of the 80s. I played Zork on my TRS 80 (though minimally and with absolutely no talent) and I ate at many a “cocktail cabinet” where under my pizza and a thin pane of glass, Pac-Man or Donkey Kong labored away. These memories were more than enough to make me feel “in” on the jokes and references and enthralled with this harrowing adventure.

Like many world-building novels, “Ready Player One” had its moments of heavy-handed exposition and rabbit-hole-like back story, but on the whole Ernest Cline created a well-written, deeply referential, genre-bending story of treasure-hunting, prophecy-fulfilling, love-seeking self exploration. “Ready Player One” was pure pleasure, perhaps the happiest-making dystopian novel I’ve ever read.