Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a veritable tour de force of storytelling. This dystopian near-future novel is absolutely fantastic science fiction of the cyberpunk school, but it is also an intense commentary on modern society, with more than a dash of nostalgia and a slap upside the head, for anyone, absolutely anyone, who spends their life looking back at their “glory days” instead of living their real life in the now. A lesson that does not just apply to geeks and video gamers.
James Halliday was dead, to begin with. So this is not his story. But it is. Because Ready Player One is about the fight for the world he created, and the company he left behind. And James Halliday left himself as the ghost in his own machine. Until someone solves the ultimate riddle in the ultimate quest, and proves themselves worthy of becoming his heir.
Wade Watts is just one of many players in the OASIS in 2044, when every player receives Halliday’s last message. And Wade embarks on that ultimate quest. Not in pursuit of worldly glory, but because the real world seriously sucks, and the OASIS and the quest for Halliday’s ultimate “Easter Egg” is the only good thing Wade and a whole lot of other people, have.
What is the OASIS? Think of Facebook and World of Warcraft and Everquest and Second Life and every massively multi-player and multi-user everything you’ve ever heard of on serious steroids. And why does the Wade’s real world suck? We can see it from here. If we make all the wrong decisions about everything, like global warming actually happening, and the recession not ever going away and unemployment going up instead of down and the global economies getting worse…well, we could easily end up in the world of Ready Player One. Unfortunately it isn’t much of an imaginative stretch.
But the story is about the quest. Halliday left instructions. And tied them up very tightly, with lots of lawyers. James Halliday loved the 1980s. (Beats me why, the fashion sense was absolutely horrendous.) However, that was when video games got their start, and when Halliday went to high school. And before the world started going to hell in the proverbial handcart. He was obsessed. Halliday buried three keys inside the world of the OASIS, and whoever found those three keys, and the gates that they opened, and solved the riddles they unlocked, would inherit his company, Gregarious Solutions, which was worth mega-billions.
The race was on. It took five years to find the first key. Wade Watts, in the person of his avatar, Parzifal, was the first. Along the way, Wade made friends with another gate hunter, or ‘gunter’ known as ‘Aech’ (i.e., just the letter ‘H’). They never met in person, only in chat rooms on the OASIS. Wade developed a major crush on a female gunter blogger named ‘Art3mis’ — well, he hoped she was female. On the OASIS, a person could be anyone, or anything. And Wade grew up. When Halliday died, he was just a kid; by the time he found the gate, he was a senior in High School. OASIS High School, of course. Even school was on OASIS.
And that was part of what Wade and his friends were fighting to protect. Gregarious Solutions offered OASIS education free, and OASIS access free to anyone. There were paid add-ons, but basic access was free, and it was the only escape from the decaying world outside. Everyone conducted their business and their pleasure in the OASIS. But naturally, there was an evil empire, trying to win Halliday’s contest in order to take it over and turn every transaction into profit. Once Wade found the first key and cleared the first gate, he became a target.
Wade’s quest, and his fight to keep the OASIS out of the hands of the evil ‘Sixers’, proceeds at a breakneck pace. The story is not just a quest story, but a thriller, also a marvelous coming-of-age story and absolutely a love story.
Escape Rating A+: First, this is simply a terrific story. There is a tremendous amount going on, and it is all fun and it keeps going at the speed of the fastest roller-coaster imaginable. There is a nostalgic aspect for anyone who even remembers the 1980s or 1990s, because every video game, TV show and movie gets mentioned at least once. But that’s only part of the fun.
This is a quest story. It’s not really about the video game, although that part was very cool. It’s about saving OASIS. It’s about solving the puzzle so that the world is saved from the big, bad evil dudes. And they are very, very evil.
It’s also about second chances. Halliday made himself a ghost in his own machine. He programmed his avatar in so he can speak with his ‘heir’. On the one hand, he makes sure that whoever picks up the reins is versed in the same minutiae that he was. On the other hand, the advice he gives about not living totally inside the computer is very good advice. Which Wade takes to heart.
I listened to this book. The performance was by Wil Wheaton. I would have to also give the performance an A+ rating. Because the book contained a lot of references to the 1980s and 90s, Wheaton was a perfect choice for the reader. There is a reference in the text to the actor being voted in as OASIS user representative, and my husband and I both wondered how many ‘spit takes’ that had taken, but he was the right choice for that reason. In this alternate future. Wheaton so would have filled that role! The book contains a tremendous number of footnotes with citations for all the references, in the audio, those work better. Wheaton read them as asides, and they flowed in seamlessly. We took a longer way home to be sure we’d finish the book before we got to the house, he was that good!