Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Ready Player One, Best Book of 2011?
Amazon publishes a list of the best books of the month (and eventually compiles that into a best books of the year list.) I'm pretty sure this is where I first found Ready Player One, which came out last year. I had it on my wish list for a while and eventually found out that the NY Public Library carried the kindle edition. I still didn't act on moving it from my wish list to my request list until my good friend, Eric, raved about it on facebook.
I loved this book.
Seriously, loved, loved, loved it. I loved it so much that I started writing this before I even finished the book... I was about 25% in when I started reviewing it. Now that I'm done, I have lots to say about it.
Ready Player One starts out with the protagonist, Wade, telling the readers about his world. It's the 2040s and the world has fallen apart. Cities are over-crowded, many destroyed by nuclear bombs. The environment has gone to hell so the weather patterns are crazy. People are poor and hungry and living in squalor. The one place everyone turns to for comfort is OASIS, an online universe where people can log on and forget about the real world. OASIS was invented by James Halliday, who was basically the Steve Jobs of his generation. A computer savant, Halliday started as an inventor of video games before creating OASIS, the massive multiplayer simulation game. When the book starts off, Halliday has just died and his will is revealed in a video. Hidden in OASIS are three keys (one copper, one jade and one crystal), which unlock three gates. Whoever finds all three keys and gates will inherit Halliday's massive fortune.
This sets the whole world into a fervor to find the treasure, called Halliday's Egg, a reference to "Easter Eggs" or hidden elements in video games or tv shows. People searching for the keys are called "Egg Hunters", which quickly evolves into "gunters". In the first chapter (or maybe it's the prologue), Wade sets all of this up and then says that it takes five years before a 17 year old finds the first key, which is, of course, him. Wade lives in Oklahoma City in the stacks, a trailer park created from stacks of RVs piled on top of one another. Both of his parents are dead so he lives with his aunt who he does not like. Because he has no money, he is stuck living in the stacks, but also he is unable to move his online avatar, Parzival (an alternative spelling to Percival, the knight who found the Holy Grail) beyond the public school "planet" in OASIS that he attends. He spends much of his time in an old van, hidden from the world, in OASIS. His only friend is another avatar named Aech (pronounced like the letter "H"). The two of them are obsessed with 1980s pop culture (video games, music, movies, TV shows), because Halliday also was. In his will, Halliday made public a book called Anorak's Almanac (Anorak was the name of Halliday's avatar), which contains Halliday's essays and rambling thoughts on all of his favorite things, namely 1980s pop culture.
Five years into the hunt, Wade stumbles onto the first key (like I said earlier, this isn't a spoiler since it's in the very first chapter). Suddenly a scoreboard appeared on Halliday's website with Wade's name at the top. Actually, the scoreboard was there before but the top ten spots all had Halliday's initials next to them. This propels Wade's avatar into the limelight. He meets a famous female blogger named Art3mis, who later appears on the scoreboard, as do two other gunters, Daito and Shoto.
Through his avatar, Wade is offered a bunch of sponsorships, which he takes, allowing him to make money in real life and move away from the stacks, and therefore focus entirely on the hunt. However, another group is also on the hunt. The IOI (Innovative Online Industries), led by Nolon Sorrento, also wants a piece of the action, because not only does the winner get Halliday's fortune, they also get control of OASIS. The IOI and their gunters (the Sixers, because all of their employee IDs begin with the number six) have tons of resources and are desperate for control of OASIS since they want to start charging a fee to use it. Most gunters despise the IOI and the Sixers, but they could win because of all the help they are able to hire to solve the game.
And that's all I'm saying about the plot. Suffice it to say, the hunt heats up quickly, as does Wade's online relationship with Art3mis. The story is fast paced and fun. I'm not someone who spends tons of time on the computer, but imagine being able to visit a planet online that is based on Lord of the Rings or to go to the Star Wars or Star Trek universes or be in an 80s movie like Back to the Future. It's every geek's dream. At one point, once Wade has money, he [or rather Cline, the author] spends way too much time describing his new, state of the art, tech. I skimmed most of that but overall the characters were likable, the stakes were intense and the pop culture references made me laugh.
If you're into 80s pop culture or nerdy things like video games, sci fi movies and Monty Python, you will get a kick out of this book. Harry Knowles from Ain't It Cool even called it "the most awesome 80's geek novel ever written," even if it does take place in the future. When writing this I actually learned that Ernest Cline did the screenplay for Fanboys, a movie that I enjoyed. And apparently Ready Player One got picked up as a movie and Cline is going to write the screen play. I can't wait!
Buy it at amazon and bn.com.