If you were a teen in the 1980s, loving Sesame Street, the Muppets, Atari 2600 games, John Hughes movies, D&D, MTV music, Zork, and nerdy Commodore 64s, then I have a book for you: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I lived through the 80s too old to play D&D but I dug the music, films and computers. Cline made me terribly envious I hadn’t grown up in his decade.
I wish I could understand why this book was so much fun to read! I’d use the formula to write bestsellers. This story reminds me of a hip new version of Citizen Kane that doesn’t take itself so seriously. Set in mid 21st century, aging billionaire James Halliday dies leaving a rather unique Last Will and Testament. Halliday made his fortune developing a virtual reality universe called OASIS that most people use to attend school, work and play in because the real reality is rather bleak. Halliday’s avatar tells the world he’s worth over $200 billion and that the first person to find his Easter Egg in the OASIS will win his fortune and company.
Now this gets the attention of the world’s foremost video gamers, as well as corporations hot to own the OASIS. Our story begins with Wade Watts, a poor kid living in the trailer park from hell, whose only access to OASIS comes from his public school gear, but in his own 21st century Horatio Alger, Jr. way climbs out of poverty to compete with legendary gamers.
The contest designed by Halliday is hard, so hard that no one gets anywhere for five years. It becomes obvious that the clues are hidden in Halliday’s childhood, just like Charles Foster Kane’s secrets, and only the most obsessed fans of 1980s trivia have any chance of solving the puzzles. Ready Player One is perfect for people who grew up in the 1980s, but the story is so well told bookworms from any decade will love it.
I wonder how many people born forty years after the the 1980s will ever find our times so fascinating? It would be like me devoting my whole life to the 1910s – but wait, I am madly in love with Downton Abbey. And just look at the success of Steampunk!
This might be the clue to Cline’s success – creating great characters set in an fantastically detailed milieu, because if we had an OASIS system to visit, I think we all would find virtual worlds based on the past quite seductive. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. At work the favorite topic of guys my age is music from the 1960s and 1970s. I’m in a classic science fiction book club where we read and reread books from the 1940s-1970s. Start paying attention to movies (Hugo, Sherlock Holmes, TinTin, War Horse) as more are set in the past. Maybe it’s the bad economic times and we just need escapism. Ready Player One sure made me forget about now.
Other Reviews and Sites – probably to read after reading the book
- BoingBoing (with 27 minute Cline video interview-spoilers)
- New York Times (rave reviews with lots of details)
- Facebook page for Ready Player One
- Ernie’s Blog – lots of great RPO art
JWH – 1/12/12