Ready Player One is a solid, dystopian future young adult novel with a fantastic element that got me right in the childhood!
Written by Ernest Cline in 2012, the book has won several awards, already has an audiobook adaptation read by Wil Wheaton and a film version is currently in production, being directed by Steven Spielberg with a spring 2018 release date.
Set in the not too distant future, the world in Ready Player One is overcrowded, under resourced and generally just a bit shit. overcrowding has gotten to the point that vast swathes of the country (America, where else!) are taken up with shanty towns called ‘the stacks’ where trailer parks have run out of room, so started building up, stacking trailer on trailer and finding a job is very difficult.
The only glimmer of light in this future hell is the immersive utopia called the OASIS, a virtual universe split into several sectors, each with hundreds of planets to explore. Part computer game, part resource and used for museums, schools, fighting arenas, brothels and everything in-between.
The founder and owner of the OASIS, James Halliday, has passed away without heir but before his death he set up an elaborate treasure hunt. The winner of said hunt will inherit his business and all of his assets. Known as Halliday’s Easter Egg, a massive following of egg hunters has risen up, referred to as Gunters, all looking for the 3 keys and the gates they open on the quest to win Halliday’s billions and control of the OASIS.
Obsessed with computer games and his childhood in the eighties, James Halliday’s legacy is that all Gunters are also obsessed with the 80’s and early arcade games, convinced that the clues to the location of the first gate will be found in references to 80’s culture Halliday left in his final message to the world.
Set five years after the death of Halliday, Ready Player One follows Wade Watts. Wade is a teenager condemned to a life of poverty. With an online identity separate from his real life drudgery, Wade is a Gunter, obsessed with finding Halliday’s Easter Egg and escaping life in the stacks.
There is an evil corporation, Innovative Online Industries, who will stop at nothing to gain control of the OASIS, employing legions of Gunters known as the ‘sixes’.
When Wade becomes finds the first key to the first gate, his life changes forever as he’s thrust into fame and danger in equal measure in a race to unlock the first gate and set off on the path to winning the OASIS.
Why I liked it:
This book is jam packed full of references to the 80’s, it’s full of movies, TV shows, computer games and music from the era I grew up in, the Halliday character is of my generation and I loved every minute of it, this book is almost a documentary of my childhood and although I didn’t get every reference in it, I know 80% easily.
Now, the story itself isn’t really anything new or original, it’s a bit like the Matrix in places and although there is an element of danger to the story, there are no hidden twists or flip-arounds to catch you out, I kept on finding myself second guessing the story when really I should have taken it all at face value because it just isn’t that kind of a sneaky story.
The dichotomy of the perfection of the virtual world and the drudgery of the real world is fascinating and the world building is colourful and descriptive. It’s your typical mixture of future technology and dilapidated grime, reflective of huge societal inequality and class gaps and the strangle hold OASIS has over everybody makes for some intriguing scenes of social imbalance, such as homeless people on the streets using outdated equipment and civilians in debt to the evil corporation forced into indentured servitude until they pay off their debts. An almost impossible task once you are in the system, which I’m sure Spielberg will bring out in the film version that will really reflect on current society.
The dystopian future of Ready Player One is only a short jump away from where we are and current crazes like Pokemon Go and Oculus Rift all seem like steps towards this kind of future.
But really, the main reason I love this book is the 80’s & popular culture references that any geek over the age of 25 will instantly nerdgasm over!
If you’re a geek aged 25-65, buy this book and read it before the film comes out, you won’t be disappointed!
Image Credit: The Night Owl Reader. Cover design by Jim Massey.
Cover illustration by WHISKYTREEinc.