While video games are my chosen hobby there are times when I somehow (between being a dad, a gamer, full time employee, and a writer) find a way to sit down with a good book. Unlike video games, reading is one of the greatest escapes and the graphics are powered by imagination where the budget is limitless and the possibilities boundless. Recently I got a chance to read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and I was pleasantly surprised. Usually I read nothing outside of fantasy or a good Star Wars book (which is fantasy in space), but I received Ready Player One as a gift and am pleased to say the book is a genre busting success that delves deeply into nostalgia while also being witty and original.
The book is set in the year 2044 and the world is in bad shape. Overpopulation, war, poverty and human laziness (all rampant in our society now) has made our planet a grim place to live. Wade Watts, our protagonist, escapes his fate like most of the world by being jacked into the OASIS: a digital world where just about anything goes. Within the OASIS children go to school, parents work, and the worlds are based on everything from Bladerunner to Harry Potter. A sprawling utopia where you can fight, fall in love, or kill time; It’s the ultimate escape and the ultimate video game.
It’s creator, James Halliday, upon his death communicated to every player a video that told them of a magnificent prize set somewhere within the OASIS that if found would bestow upon the lucky person a fortune as well as control of the OASIS and all the companies that create and keep it. Halliday was obsessed with the 80’s and clues could be hidden in anything from a game of Pac-Man to his favorite movie. For years millions of players have struggled to find the prize until most decided it didn’t exist, just a cruel prank by an odd dying recluse, until Wade stumbles upon the first challenge in a series of fiendish puzzles and manages to bring public attention back to the search.
Of course with that kind of money comes power; power that many would kill for. As Wade makes his way through the clues and attempts to free himself from the dregs of his reality, he must dodge danger in both a real and virtual world. Our protagonist himself is what one would call the penultimate nerd, an overweight kid that isn’t outrageously handsome, but clever and obsessed with finding the clues to the puzzle, and thus obsessed with all things 80’s.
The characters within the book are well crafted and believable and the plot moves along at a breakneck pace. I found it almost impossible to put the book down once I started and gleaned no end of smiles from constant nods to the time period I was born and grew up in. Even without a vast pop culture knowledge of the 80’s the book is instantly accessible and endlessly entertaining with an underlying message on our constant reliance to shy away from real human contact in a day and age where one has more Facebook friends then he/she does real ones.
It’s a rip roaring good time and a fantastic read that will just as often find wizards fighting giant Japanese robots as it does the main character, and ourselves, exploring the possibilities of a world outside of the OASIS. I’ve not been more satisfied reading a book in a long time and I believe if most of you give it a shot you’ll walk away happily surprised as well.
Score: 5 out of 5