My ship stood out in the vast array of vessels, since it was the only giant robot.
– Ernest Cline
I just finished the funnest book ever.* And I mean, like, Harry Potter fun. After reading a Book Riot piece called How to Recover from an AMAZING Book, and absolutely relating to the literature hangover the author described, I had to read the book that had sent her reeling. The book was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. And it was totally worth the four week library wait.
Ready Player One is a sci fi novel that takes place in the year 2045, in the United States, when the real world has been abandoned in favor of the OASIS, a virtual reality universe created by James Halliday, who adolesced in the 1980s, and who died a multi-billionaire in 2040. Halliday was a loner when he died, with no-one to leave his billions to, so instead of willing his vast fortune to charity, he set up a quest within his OASIS game system: the first person to find the Easter egg he had hidden within the thousands of worlds encoded in his virtual universe would win his $240 billion.
As if that weren’t a fun enough premise for a novel, the entire quest requires a vast knowledge 1980s pop culture. For folks of my generation – that is, those of us who grew up in the 1980s, playing Atari and Space Invaders, whose first computer experience was with a Commodore 64, who watched Family Ties and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Back to the Future, whose brothers played with Transformers, who listened to Duran Duran or had boyfriends who listened to Rush – this book is filled with nostalgia. Because Ernest Cline doesn’t just talk about the ’80s. In the OASIS, and in the hunt for Halliday’s egg, Cline enters his characters into the 1980s, into simulations where they must complete a Dungeons & Dragons quest, not by rolling dice, but by navigating their avatars through a D&D module within the OASIS. Or play a perfect game of Pacman. Or become a character in War Games, moving him accurately and reciting his lines correctly to earn points (extra points for inflection).
The geekery is off the charts, with high school kids plugged into the OASIS all of their waking hours, wearing “haptic suits” that allow them to animate their avatars. They hang out in virtual chatrooms, gain experience points, pick up artifacts, level up. I couldn’t help but think of my friends who play World of Warcraft as I read the familiar gaming jargon. I texted one of them as soon as I finished, “You HAVE to read this book.”
A word of warning, though. If you’re looking for literary genius, profound truths, sophistication or complexity, you won’t find them here. The closest you’ll get is a not-so-subtle caution, as society and the world crumble from neglect, to beware the lure of online life to the exclusion of your real one. But if you want a light, enormously fun read, with lots of “nerd pandering,” as one Amazon reviewer so aptly put it, this book has it all: funny, likable characters, despicable villains, virtual space travel, gaming, riddles, and giant robots. By Level Three of the book, my eyes could not scan the words as fast as I wanted to consume them. Ready Player One was a terrific first novel that left me smiling.
*Okay, so that was hyperbole, since from the bar graph you can clearly see that Harry Potter was slightly more fun than Ready Player One.
“At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.”