Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Published: 18th August 2011
It costs 25 cents to open your OASIS account, and then it's free to use, forever. OASIS' creator and owner, James Halliday, has taken measures to ensure that evil faceless corporations, specifically Innovative Online Industries (IOI), will never be able to pervert his creation. During his lifetime. With his death begins the great Easter Egg Hunt. The winner will inherit his vast fortune and control of OASIS.
While Parzifal/Wade and his fellow “gunters” (egg-hunters) search in the spirit of Halliday's legacy, IOI have a vast army of “oologists” dedicated to winning the contest so that IOI can take over OASIS and exploit its money-making potential, and exert control over all of its users.
For five years, nothing happens. But when Parzifal and four other gunters (Art3mis, Aech, Daito and Shoto) discover the first Key, an epic race to complete the hunt begins.
Hello geeks. This is the novel you are looking for. It's for the RPGers, the DnDers, the Trekkies and the Browncoats. It's for the Bloggers, the Tweeters, the Code Monkeys and the Otaku. If you have more books than you can fit on your shelves; if you have obsolete consoles with games you still play; if you can recite cult movies or if your heart bleeds prog: this novel is for you. More than anything, if you're a child (or teenager) of the 80s, this book is waiting for you to read it.
Ready Player One feels like a story you already know. At its heart it's a classic quest story with pop culture trappings, set in a dystopian near-future. It's populated with believable, well-fleshed out characters whom you will grow to love. The villains are a dream: they're end of level Bosses, but they're also The Man.
The idea of a story set both in real life (RL) and online, is familiar to anyone who has seen Tron, The Matrix, Summer Wars or countless other SF classics, so it shouldn't be hard for you to get your head around. However, even if you're unfamiliar with this kind of duality, Cline's writing is so smooth, comfortable and welcoming that you will soon feel as at home within the world of OASIS as his characters do.
OASIS is a logical extension of the way we use the internet now. People play games, shop, chat, consume media and live second lives on there. In a post-fossil fuel world, life in the OASIS is preferable for most people. In a world where physically attending school is unsafe, OASIS schools educate the world's children. Where unemployment is endemic and countless millions subsist on food vouchers, OASIS jobs and credits have real world value.
The events within OASIS (where most of the story takes place) are thrilling, engaging and entertaining, but it's when RL intervenes, when the reality of IOI's ambitions and the ends to which they are willing to go reveal themselves, that you feel just how much danger the gunters are in.
These sections are arresting, but not jarring. They add perspective and contrast. We have no problem with the idea of people “dying” in a computer game, other than empathising with their frustration at having to start over, but when someone dies in RL, it's shocking.
I found the puzzles as fascinating as the characters and story. On one occasion I solved a clue well before Parzifal did and I cheered when I read that I was correct. The book is littered with references to games, films, novels, comics, songs and TV shows. Some are obvious, some are more subtle. I'm certain I missed a whole heap, and I'm sure you will too: it depends on which parts of geek culture you're a fan of. But those you recognise will make you smile, and warm you right down to your geeky toes.
But is it any deeper than that? Is it just a geekfest that rewards obsessives? Does it do anything more than indulge every geek's fantasy that some day, somehow, our heads full of the broken bottles of trivia will bring us fame, fortune and glory? Ready Player One is a beautiful tale of friendship, comradeship, honour and love. Anyone who has made or maintained RL friendships, or fallen in love with someone they met online, will find the relationships in the novel completely credible. Its message is that no matter who you are, no matter where you're from, you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it and have a little help from your friends. Best of all, it says that if we, the little people, band together, we can take down the Big Bads of the real world, as well as the virtual ones. That's something I truly believe.
I had real trouble in putting this book down. I devoured it within 48 hours of opening it, and I adored every minute I spent inside its universe. Warner are developing a film version, which I shall eagerly anticipate. But don't wait for the movie. Read this novel. It's wonderful.