Imagine you’re in a world in which the atmosphere is so toxic that staying inside hooked into virtual reality seems like the best way to make it through your day. Based on recent events in this region, I bet you won’t have any trouble conjuring up that image at all. Well, take our world situation and ramp up the carnage about tenfold and throw in a future in which virtual reality has been perfected to the point that it rivals the real world in terms of detail and complexity and you have some idea of what faces Wade Watts, the narrator of Ernest Cline’s bestseller, Ready Player One.
The story is set in the middle of the 21st century, but there is a heavy emphasis on the 1980s, due to the fact that James Halliday, the creator of the virtual reality program nearly everyone lives in, OASIS, was a teenaged nerd in the 70s and 80s. And when he dies, his will is in the form of a challenge to everyone in the OASIS. Solve his puzzle and you get all his money. And it’s a lot of money. Enough to make you ruler of the world. And Wade Watts, or Parzival as he’s known in the virtual world, might just be smart and resourceful enough to do it. The problem, of course, is there’s a shadowy company employing thousands and thousands of gamers, known as Sixers, to try and win the game so they can own OASIS and change it from the free-for-all environment it is into a subscription service available only to the wealthy few. Who wins? I’d tell you, but that would spoil the fun.
And fun it definitely is. I know it was written with a young adult audience in mind, but it was especially fun for me, a guy who grew up in the 70s and 80s with a nerdy streak about a mile wide. Every TV show, movie, music, and videogame reference was familiar to me in a really positive way. Though I was a terrible gamer, I recall vividly the hours spent feeding quarters into consoles trying to overcome the intricacies of Joust and Space Invaders, and Pac Man. Even more clearly, I remember like it was last week (because, truth out, it was) watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail and reciting the dialogue by heart.
Apparently, several people agreed, considering how many copies of the book have been sold, along with the fact it’s been adapted into a highly anticipated film directed by none other than Steven Spielberg. It looks to be another blockbuster.
I really did enjoy this book. The narrator felt real and sympathetic to me, as did his motley crew of fellow Gunters, short for “egg hunters” who were competing against the sinister Sixers in search of the mythical egg hidden somewhere at the end of the intricate labyrinth of games and puzzles inside OASIS. There are even two members of the group who are samurai, giving the whole book a strong Seven Samurai feel. They even have a cool nickname: The High Five. It really does seem like a classic Japanese or Western flick, in which the small group of highly resourceful loners is forced to work together against insurmountable odds and—oops, I almost gave away the ending again, didn’t I?
You’ll have to read it for yourself. Or wait for the film. But if you don’t read it first, you miss out on the chance to constantly tell your fellow moviegoers how the book did it differently and how much better the book was. And, of course, it will have been better. So, read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I highly recommend it.