Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publication: Crown (August 16, 2011)

Description: 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.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

My Thoughts: I just finished this amazing story that will have broad appeal for a wide variety of readers. 

It is a dystopia. Wade Watts lives in a slum called the Stacks outside of Oklahoma City. The Stacks are piles of mobile homes, RVs, and other such vehicles that house those too poor to live anywhere else. Wade is an orphan who is theoretically cared for by his aunt who care manifests itself in taking his food vouchers and having her boyfriend of the moment take anything else of value that he might have. 

While Wade's real life is bleak and hopeless, his online life in the OASIS is something very different. The founder of the OASIS, which is a very souped up version of Second Life, died and left a contest in place. The winner will get his whole multi-billion dollar estate and control of the OASIS too. Everyone spends most of their available time in OASIS. That is where they go to school, and work, and spend their leisure time too.

Wade immediately begins searching for the treasure. To find it he has to become an expert on the founder - James Donovan Halliday - and has to become an expert on all the things Halliday loved. Halliday was a geek who loved science fiction authors (I have actually read quite a number of them), 1980s movies (I have heard of them but not seen them), and all sorts of video-games (which are totally a mystery to me). 

Cline lards the book with all sorts of 1980s pop culture details. It made me want to check out some of the videos, games, and stories that he mentions. Those who are hunting for the prize must collect three keys. The book is divided into three parts. Each of them revolves around the hunt for one of the keys.

It is an adventure novel. Wade isn't hunting alone. He also has some online friends on the hunt too. Aech is his best friend. Although they have never met in real life, they spend a lot of time together learning about the 80s and playing lots of those classic video games. Another friend is Art3mis. She is a popular gunter which comes from contracting egg hunter. Wade, who is known in OASIS as Parzival, has been following her blog and has developed a massive crush on her. There are also two other hunters who are of importance in the story - Daito and Shoto. While the five are rivals, they are still friendly. 

It is a romance. Parzival falls in love with Art3mis. He has gotten to know her online. She doesn't believe that he could love the real her. She wants to concentrate on winning the prize. She wants to use the money to feed the hungry. She tries to discourage all of Parzival's attempts to get to know her. 

But the real rivals to their search are the sixers who are employees of IOI, a megacorporation that wants to win the contest to take over OASIS and change the parameters. There plan to institute a fee structure would price most people out of it. The leader of the sixers is Sorrento. IOI is willing to go to great lengths to win the contest. After all, the winner will have great power and wealth. In fact, they are willing to resort to murder. A good part of the story has to do with the way Wade manages to stay one step ahead of IOI in the real world while pursuing his search for the keys in OASIS.

This was a gripping adventure, a celebration for geeks everywhere, and a great romance too. I recommend it to readers of any of those genres. I can't wait to see the movie!

Favorite Quote:
Standing there, under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth. In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified videogame.
I received a finished copy for review from Cara at Wunderkind PR. You can get your copy here.

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