In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.
Okay. It's been about a week since I finished this gem of a book, I'm ready to attempt a review for it.
Ready Player One starts with one of the best prologues I have ever read. We learn about a contest being held upon the death of the creator of the most immersive virtual-reality technology ever to hit the market, the OASIS. James Halliday has an obsession with all things 80s, and with a video will broadcast inside the reality-numbing VR game, he drops the bombshell that his entire fortune - over 200 billion dollars, and the rights to the OASIS universe itself - will be left to the first player to find an obscure easter egg hidden somewhere inside the game. After informing players that they'd need exhaustive knowledge of his favorite decade's pop culture, his death sets off a resurgence in 80s fashion that consumes the world. This novel manages to be both a Farenheit 451-esque dystopian commentary, and an ode to the decade that birthed power ballads, cheesy movies, and the beginnings in video game advancement. And, most shockingly, it is done well. Very, very well.
When we first meet Wade Watts, he's living with his aunt in something called a "stack" - a trailor piled on top of other trailors using scaffolding and prayer. The stacks are basically the slums of the future, a way to house as many paying tenants as possible in as small of a space as possible. Wade is a chunky outcast who, like most of society, has shunned the neglected, dying real world in favor of the artificially beautiful one found inside the OASIS. The vast majority of his waking hours are spent logged in; he is even enrolled in one of many OASIS schools, a public education system located entirely in the virtual world, which I thought was a genius touch. He is an avid gunter - short for "egg hunter", meaning he's one of millions diligently searching for a way to win Halliday's contest - who laments his lack of financial means to really search for the egg. His quick wit and extensive knowledge of 80s culture snare him the first spot on the contest's Scoreboard anyway, and catapault this book from interesting to all-immersive and incredibly tense as we join him on his race to win a fortune that will give him a life he'd only ever dreamed of.
I loved so many aspects of this novel, but my favorite would have to be the solid creativity of it. Ernest Cline gave us a novel set in the future, rooted in the past, that draws on our constantly advancing technology and overall apathy for the planet we live on. He wove a world set inside of a video game that could so very easily be reality within the next few decades. He created a contest so difficult to win that it took millions of people years to even find the very first clue without forcing us to suspend our belief by throwing some semi-obvious answer our way and passing it as tortoruously hard. Time and time again, he gave us answers that fit but were far from obvious, that made perfect sense in hindsight but couldn't be predicted pages before their reveal. As an avid reader and failed writer, I can tell you; this is no easy feat to accomplish. I give Mr. Cline mad props for pulling it off so seamlessly.
Another thing I loved about Ready Player One is how quickly things go from imaginative and fun, to life-or-death tense. The villain of this novel is a corporation born out of the game's massive success, the Innovative Online Industries, or "IOI". They are desperate to win the contest so they can have complete control over the OASIS, turning it from a virtually free escape for the world-weary, to an elitist gamer club forking over fortunes to the IOI, essentially making them the most powerful, gluttunously rich, unstoppable conglomeration in existence. It soon becomes obvious how far they are willing to go to obtain their monopoly on the money machine that is the OASIS. They are RUTHLESS, guys. I will never forget the moment things got real for Wade; it pumped me full of vicarious adrenaline and obliterated any hopes for a reasonable bedtime I may have had. My heart was racing as I flipped through the pages.
Amid the deadly race to win, there is a refreshing whimsy to the characters' avatar interractions and relationships. We meet Aech (pronounced "H"), Parzival's (Wade's online avatar) best friend whom he's only ever known inside the game; a fellow gunter well-versed in sarcasm and MMORPG wit, Aech quickly becomes a favorite character. Then there's Art3mis, an OASIS-famous blogger whose avatar and personality Wade has the most adoable schoolboy crush on. His frienship with her is nothing short of wonderful, and it kept me grinning like an overly-involved older sister. I love these characters, and how well Ernest Cline portrayed the importance and depth of online friendships. I related so hard to some of the themes in their relationships, most especially the fear of falling short in person; of not being attractive enough, not being as good as the image painted by their glamourized avatar. I saw myself in Art3mis especially.
Ready Player One draws on some darker societal themes in its prediction of a dying planet, and a society rushing to escape real life by wasting away inside of a video game. At first, the OASIS seemed absolutely incredible, like something I would kill to be able to experience, but as the novel went on and we saw how so many people were completely willing to forfeit any real happiness from a very early age in order to grow up inside of virtual reality, I began to see a disturbingly plausible exaggeration of today's youth in it. The mention of the "missing children" - kids who locked themselves away and refused to exist outside of the OASIS - struck a chord inside of me. It is often easier to lose ourselves in an online world than to exist fully in the real one, and with the trend of doing just that growing alarmingly fast, how will our grandchildren be growing up? Isn't the OASIS just a more immersive version of smartphones keeping us tapped in to social media and gaming consoles allowing us to live out our fantasies from our bedrooms? This novel gives you a lot to think about, and predicts a future that we can only hope to avoid. It asks very hard questions while it takes us on one hell of an entertaining ride.
One of the most common complaints I see for this book is the excessive exposition. While it is true that there's more telling than showing in this novel, that didn't hinder my personal enjoyment at all. I loved learning about the expansive OASIS world; I'd often find the info-dumping chapters to be the most entertaining. That said, I can see where it would be a hindrance to some. If you are adverse to a lot of exposition, it may be a problem for you, but if you think you can handle it if it's done well, I can almost guarantee that, like me, you won't have a problem with it.
My biggest issue with Ready Player One is that it sucked me in so completely that even now, over a week later, all I want to do is return to those pages and lose myself again. I simply can't seem to let it go.
5 Out Of 5 Stars