Publisher: Crown Publishers, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Dystopia
Where I Got It: Amazon Vine
My Rating: 4.5 stars
When I tell you what this book is about, most of you are going to think “That doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy.” Just forget all that. Seriously. I thought that too, but I was dead wrong. This is one of the most fun and exciting books I’ve read this year. The only reason I tried it was because Alyce at At Home With Books got so gosh darned excited about it that I felt like I had to read it. And I am so glad I did!
Here is the basic set-up: In the year 2044, most of the Earth’s population is living in poverty and misery. One of the few ways to make life bearable is to plug in to the OASIS—a fully immersive virtual reality world where people can attend school, shop, date, and play. Basically, anything that can be done in the real world can be done in the OASIS—minus the pesky boundaries of the real world (like gravity, lack of magic and so forth). The OASIS is very much like the Matrix, except that people consciously and voluntarily log in to it.
Upon the death of primary OASIS architect, James Halliday, a worldwide contest is announced, with the prize being Halliday’s entire estate, which includes his personal stake in OASIS and a fortune valued at more than $240 billion dollars. To win, you have to be the first person to solve a series of riddles and puzzles that Halliday has hidden within the OASIS.
Naturally, the contest is extremely difficult. Knowledge of Halliday’s life are the key to success. It turns out (in a stroke of genius by Cline) that Halliday was obsessed with the 1980s, particularly vintage video games (like those from Atari, Ms. Pac Man), Dungeons and Dragons, movies like War Games and Ladyhawke, and music by bands such as Rush. Halliday grew up in the1980s, and his whole life was informed and determined by 1980s culture. To succeed at the Hunt (as the contest comes to be known), a new subculture of Halliday scholars and searchers called “gunters” is born. (Gunters are people who spent every free moment of their lives searching for Halliday’s Egg, the virtual form of the prize that Halliday has hidden.) In addition, the villain of the book—the mega-corporation IOI—is also going after the Egg with everything they’ve got in an effort to seize control of OASIS and commercialize the hell out of it.
However, five years have passed since Halliday’s death and the start of the Hunt, and no one has solved the first riddle yet. That is, until our hero, 18-year-old Wade Watts, an orphaned gunter who lives in poverty in the “stacks” on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, becomes the first person to appear on the Scoreboard when he find the Copper Key (the first of three hidden keys). And, as Wade says in the prologue:
Dozens of books, cartoons, movies and miniseries have attempted to tell the story of everything that happened next, but all of them got it wrong. So I want to set the record straight, once and for all.
The rest of the book is the breathless, deliriously fun, adrenaline-filled account of Wade’s quest to find Halliday’s egg. Filled with adventure, close calls, suspense, murder, secrets, humor, romance, friendship, pain and a bajillion references to 1980s pop culture, the book is a kick to read. I enjoyed it immensely, and found myself so caught up in the story that I abandoned any pretense of housekeeping and devoured the book in just a few days. (Yesterday, I just sat and read it until I was done because I couldn’t wait to find out how it ended.)
Too often, the thriller genre is filled with run-of-the-mill story lines such as “a lawyer found a secret and now he has to hide from the bad guys” or “a tough guy loner is in town to find the sniper who is picking off ordinary citizens” or “a serial killer seems to be loose in the PTA.” Very few of these books are actually thrilling—where you literally feel your pulse quicken and you’re on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next. Ready Player One is a true thriller. I was so caught up in what was going on that I just raced from page to page. It totally read like a movie … and I mean that in the very best way.
The other great thing about the book was how Cline created this dystopic future world that is totally (thank God!) unlike ours (but extremely fascinating) but then chose to make Halliday obsessed with the 1980s—thereby providing a motherlode of cultural touchstones that feel familiar, fun and fresh. By cleverly combining a unfamiliar future with the familiar past, Cline gives us the best of both worlds—allowing us to relate to Wade in a way that we could never fully relate to other dystopic heroes like Katniss Everdeen or Todd Hewitt. When Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail made an appearance, I was smiling from ear-to-ear. I’m sure everyone will be able to relate to at least a few of the 1980s references, and, if you can’t, it still doesn’t diminish the rollercoaster thrill ride that is this book.
Do yourself a favor and read Ready Player One. It was one of the funnest and most thrilling reading experiences I’ve had all year.
What are other bloggers saying about this book? You can find out at the Book Blogs Search Engine. Of course, you should also read Alyce’s review of this book, which is what got me to read it in the first place.