Friday, October 07, 2011

Ready Player One

By Ernest Cline

It's 2044 and things are not good for planet Earth. Overpopulation, declining resources, rampant poverty and crime are worldwide. Wade Watts, a high-schooler, is a typical example of the times. He lives in the Stacks, an urban slum that used to be a trailer park but now is trailers, piled on trailers, each trailer crowded with multiple families. But there is one place that anyone with Internet access can go to escape the harsh realities of life: the Oasis. The Oasis is a virtual universe, with thousands of planets and uncounted adventures to be had. It was created by gaming genius James Halliday and can be accessed free of charge.
But then Halliday died and left no heirs. What he did leave was a challenge -- anyone who could solve the puzzle he created would inherit his vast fortune and control of Oasis!
Thus challenged, millions of people set out to solve the puzzle set in the Oasis universe, including young Wade Watts. But individuals were not the only ones who wanted to solve the puzzle. Also determined to solve the puzzle and gain control of Oasis is IOI, an near-monopoly Internet service provider. If IOI wins, it will limit access to Oasis to only those who are willing to pay a fee to use it. Naturally, everyone is up in arms over this and determined to prevent IOI from winning. But IOI is willing to go to any lengths to win, including mass-murder, as Wade finds out when his home is blown up by IOI because he has become the first person in years to solve the first part of the multi-part puzzle and IOI wants to take out any one who even gets close to solving the puzzle.
Before he came into conflict with IOI, Wade was like the thousands of other "gunters" trying to figure out Halliday's puzzle. The person who will be successful at it will be the one who understands and knows the most about the puzzle's creator, James Halliday. Halliday loved American culture of the 1980s, especially science fiction, fantasy and video games. The solution to the puzzle lies in Halliday's obsession with that time. As a result, gunters spend their time researching Halliday and Wade is one of the best gunters. He has a "quest journal" with meticulous and detailed notes on Halliday's life and Halliday's obsessions. He has played and mastered the games Halliday loved, viewed, read and memorized the shows, movies and books Halliday enjoyed. He is the first person to solve the first part of the puzzle but he is soon followed by four other young gunters, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto. They all find themselves targets of IOI and together and apart will work to solve the puzzle and keep themselves alive despite IOI's dirty tricks and financial muscle.

I loved this book. And I am not a video gamer. You really don't have to be a gamer to understand and enjoy this fun and engaging action-adventure story. Wade has lots of adventures, gets to be on top for a while then falls back but stages a tremendous rally at the end. I don't know if this is true, and it isn't meant to disparage the book, but it reads like it was written to be a huge special-effects movie. It is chock full of 1980s sci-fi culture, movies, books, TV shows, games, comics and music. Anyways, I enjoyed it so much, that I was sorry to reach the end of the story.

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