Friday, February 6, 2015

Ready Player One

Oh, let's just start out with a bang shall we, friends? I just finished Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. This futuristic thriller is set in a dystopian America circa 2044. Life is bleak and the future bleaker but the denizens of this world escape regularly into the OASIS, a fully immersive virtual reality. Five years prior to our story's beginning, the simulation's co-creator, '80's pop culture obsessed multi-billionaire Jim Halliday, has died, leaving his vast fortune to the lucky citizen who successfully completes a quest he has programmed into the game. Our protagonist, Wade, through his avatar Parzival,  is one of millions of "gunters," gamers dedicated to the hunt for Halliday's "egg" and the first to have any success in discovering its location.  His elation at his discovery is short-lived, however, as he finds himself a fugitive in both realities, fighting now not only for the prize, but for his life.

Okay, honestly, Mr. Cline you had me at hello.  The title of this thing, Ready Player One, made my heart skip a beat, as it would any self-respecting gamer who ever put a quarter on the edge of a coin-operated arcade game in the well-respected ritual that said, wordlessly, "got next."  And what follows the title doesn't disappoint.  The entire novel is an ode, the sweetest love song ever written, to 1980's geek culture.  If you still remember with misty fondness your first Dungeons and Dragons character, if words like "Zork" make you pee in your pants a little bit, if your thumbs cramp at the very mention of the word "Joust" as you instinctively flap the wings of your ostrich, this book is for you.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, we can't be friends.

I'm kidding, of course.  I still love you even if you never played Pong.  And actually you will still absolutely love this book.  Cline does a fantastic job explaining the games, movies, albums, spaceships and other various trappings of geekdom for those who missed out on the wonderful, glorious '80s (or who were there but never played Pac-Man; but, to be real, is there anyone who didn't play Pac-Man?) and his story behind the nostalgia is a-maz-ing.  Heart in your throat, "don't-go-in-there!" suspense, tantalizing riddles to be puzzled through, engaging characters, humor and charm.  This book has it all.  And his world-building is so exquisite that at the book's end you emerge as one of his characters must after hours spent in the OASIS -- lost in another world and forced to take a long, slow-blinking moment to adjust to your own.

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