So far this year, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is the best book I’ve read this year. If you played video games in the 1980s and 90s, if you love movies and music from that era, if you role-played in any way, this is the book for you. Ready Player One is The Lord of the Rings for all-around geeks.
In 2044, the world is falling apart. Nearly everyone has all but retreated into the immensity of the OASIS, a virtual-reality galaxy filled with planets inspired by the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, video games, films, and even music. People conduct business inside the OASIS, people are paid with OASIS credits, children go to school in the OASIS; they can fly or fight, transport anywhere, create new identities, or just lost themselves in the anonymity that goes with living through an avatar in a digital universe.
Five years ago, the creator of the OASIS James Halliday died. He was a recluse, without any friends and nearly without any human contact. Upon his death, a recording was release to all OASIS users. This recording, filled with hundreds of minute references to the 1980s (the decade during which Halliday grew up and had become obsessed with) told of an easter egg that Halliday had hidden somewhere in the OASIS. The person who finds it will have control of Halliday’s company and his entire estate–billions of dollars. This easter egg, however, is preceded by three gates which are opened by three keys. They must be opened in the correct order. The only clues Halliday leaves are in the form of an almanac (more of a manifesto/journal), and the video itself. Thousands of easter egg hunters (‘gunters, for short) have scrutinized the recording, as well as all of 1980s pop culture, in hopes of finding a lead to Halliday’s egg. One day, after five years, an avatar’s name appears on the scoreboard Halliday left behind: Parzival–the avatar of Wade Watts. This sparks a frantic race to capture the rest of the keys, to open the gate, and to reach the egg first.
I love movies and television, and I grew up playing the NES and other arcade games. In college I really got into 80s music as well, particularly Rush. This novel is filled to the brim with references to all things pop culture, but not superfluously. It’s integral to the plot. Now, if you’re not steeped in the 80s and 90s, it’s OK, Cline doesn’t leave you behind. This is a story of epic proportions. From space battles to giant robot fights to arcade games, the excitement and puzzle solving does not stop. I enjoyed the entire thing; I was in suspense the entire time and just enthralled throughout. When I finished, I wanted to pick it right back up and start again.
I listened to the audio book (though I own the novel), narrated by Wil Wheaton, and I can’t imagine a better narrator. He sells it thoroughly, really nailing it.
Read this book, enjoy it, and revel in the sheer geek.