Friday, January 20, 2012

Contemporary Fiction: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

First I just have to say: Delightful...absolutely delightful. I mean honestly, of the best books I have read in a long while. So thoroughly enjoyed it. It should really be illegal to have as much fun as I did reading this book. Really. I just cannot sing it's praises enough. I have to say...alright I'll stop and get on with it. 

The situation: Wade is a pretty typical 17 year-old boy who attends school and spends as much time as he can online. Pretty relateable right...most of us can understand this guy and probably knows someone like him. Here's the thing though: Wade lives in the year 2044, the earth has become pretty much a wasteland due to the global energy crisis, and most of society, not just the super-tech savvy, spend most of their time online in the OASIS, which can be treated as just another social media/online gaming site, but that would be limiting it's power entirely. Wade goes to school there, has friends there, works there, but more importantly he, and the rest of humanity, are currently locked into a contest to see who can finish out a treasure hunt left behind by OASIS creator James Halliday (think Howard Hughes) when he died. The first person who successfully finishes the quest not only becomes the most famous egg hunter or "gunter," but also automatically inherits Halliday's massive estate, control over the OASIS, and billions upon billions upon billions of dollars. I probably could stand to add in a few more billions, but you get the idea.

And don't worry, the OASIS isn't so far beyond what we have now that Wikipedia no longer exists. And bonus! is still free. Plus, if you lived through the 80s, you would be way ahead of the game since Halliday was a teenager during the 80s and was obsessed about any and every type of popular culture from the decade. The year may be 2044, but because of Halliday's treasure hunt and massive fixation on everything from Cyndi Lauper to John Hughes to Atari, the stuff that made up the 80s is what is popular of the time and what anyone who is interested in the treasure hunt ever studies. There is little to no mention of the music, movies, games, or television shows of the time of the time, but there are several mentions of Devo, WarGames, PacMan, and even Family Ties, plus so much more. Seriously, half the fun of reading this book is trying to see if you can catch the references. I'll admit, I was born in 1982, but a good amount of this stuff was lost on me. True, I am also not a big gamer, so maybe that is where I lost my edge.

The problem: It does sound like one big romp through an 80s themed virtual reality in order to win a mass amount of money. And for the most part, it is. Just one issue...well two really: the real world is still a festering waste land, and the Innovative Online Industries (IOI) would also like to win Halliday's fortune and take over the OASIS themselves in order to make more money off it and essentially only limit it to high paying customers. Oh, and they are okay with committing real murder in the real world in order to make that happen (think The Matrix...but not as stylish). So not only does Wade have other gunters to compete with, but he also has to stay off of the radar of the IOI, both in the OASIS and in real life.

Genre, Theme, History: To just slap on the label of science fiction would be way too short-sighted. I actually like dystopian fiction or maybe even dystopian fantasy. Of course, the case could be made for utopian fiction or fantasy as well since the world known as the OASIS is THE place for everyone to escape to and live the life that is not available to them in the real world. The massive overarching theme is anything and everything related to 80s popular culture. Having this story, which is set over 30 years in the future, have it's base in a decade that most adult readers know about made me like this book even more. Wade's world as he knows it came out of the current recession and energy crisis. It also appears that the middle class has finally disappeared and only the very poor and the very rich exist. Cline did an excellent job of giving us a glimpse into a possibly future society, but not making it so alien to us that it was difficult to keep up.

My verdict? Well, I kind of gave that away in the first paragraph. Easily five stars. There were times where I did feel a little lost, but like I said, that may be due to my limited knowledge of heavy gaming. It is the kind of book that makes your blood pressure go up as you read it, almost as if you are playing a video game because you can feel the enemy breathing down Wade's neck as he wills himself to figure out the puzzles and move forward. Also, because Wade is the typical teenage boy with the typical teenage friends and the typical teenage boy habits, he will get on your nerves on occasion.

Favorite moment: When Wade has to recite every one of Matthew Broderick's lines from one of his movies (I won't give away which one...visit Wikipedia if you absolutely must know) in order to pass one of the gates. The very idea just made me so happy for some reason.

Favorite character: I just have to go with Ogden Morrow. He was James Halliday'sHalliday for the last decade of his life. He is the Gandalf of this story, so whenever he shows up I just feel so much better. 

And that is my take on Ernest Cline's debut novel Ready Player One. I definitely recommend it to any child of the 80s or fan on 1980s popular culture.

Recommended Reading: Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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