For my first book of the year, I chose Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It fit with one of my reading themes regarding futuristic, dystopian versions of the future with an interesting twist. The story contains a lot of references to 1980’s pop culture, with a particular emphasis on video games of the era. Since I grew up during the eighties and spent a lot of time during my junior high and high school days on an Atari 2600, Colecovision, Commodore 64 and various TRS-80 models, I figured it would be an interesting read as well as a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
The story is set in the year 2044. A prolonged economic malaise has led to sustained high rates of unemployment and created large groups of under-privileged, poverty-stricken people. Most of these people live in mobile homes and trailers that have been placed on top of each other to build up makeshift skyscrapers which are know as “stacks”. To get away from the crush of reality, people spend most of their time in an online simulation environment called OASIS, which stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. In the OASIS, people can be whoever they want to be, which comes at a price. While obtaining an online account to access the OASIS only costs a quarter, moving around the environment and outfitting your avatar costs money, which is difficult for most to afford.
The main character of the story is Wade Watts, a high school senior nearing graduation who lives in the stacks outside of Oklahoma City. He’s one of the lucky few who is able to attend school within the OASIS, which was founded by computer genius James Halliday. Halliday is a socially awkward child of the eighties who immersed himself in early video games and computer technology. His founding of the OASIS enables him to become wealthy beyond belief. His death is what kicks off the story.
His will states that anyone who can find his “easter egg” within the OASIS will inherit his entire fortune worth hundreds of billions. He leaves a clue to help everyone start their search, which Wade becomes infatuated with solving so he can escape his life of squalor in the stacks. From there, Wade goes on an adventure that leads him all over the OASIS and puts him in competition with other users and a corporation who wants to control the OASIS in order to monetize it. It’s a classic story of good vs evil.
For me, Ready Player One started a bit slow because Cline spends quite a few pages filling in the backdrop for the story. Once you make it through the development of the story, the book becomes a combination of an action drama and fantasy adventure. Throughout the entire time, you are treated to a steady dose of 70’s and 80’s nostalgia which covers everything from music to movies to television to video games. In other words, anything and everything related to pop culture of the era.
At the end, I didn’t know how to characterize the book. The book takes a while to get going, but once you hit the second half, it gets hard to put down. It probably took me half as long to get through the second half as the first. However, the book kept me engaged throughout because of all the pop culture references to my childhood. Without that, it would have been tough to get through the beginning.
So what’s the verdict? I thoroughly enjoyed it and am putting it in my Must Read stack of books. I’d highly recommend it for anyone who grew up during the 70’s and 80’s, or anyone familiar with that time period. If that era isn’t your cup ‘o tea, then I’d probably recommend you pass on it. It will be difficult to follow, and the abundance of references to that time period may get tiresome before you’re able to get to the meat of the book.