Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One is set in a future where fuel shortages, wars, and corporate destruction have made real life miserable. The protagonist is Wade Watts, an Oklahoma City teenager whose real life is relentlessly grim. But like most of the other people in 2044, Wade stays positive by spending most of his time controlling his avatar in a virtual world, OASIS, a world of worlds where players can have almost any experience imaginable. The OASIS was programmed by a brilliant but somewhat cracked man: James Halliday made a huge fortune from his brainchild, and on his death announced that he had hidden an easter egg in the game. The player who finds will claim his fortune and his company.
As the novel opens, three years have passed, and none of the easter egg hunters (or “gunthers” as they’ve come to be known) has succeeded in solving even the first level of Halliday’s puzzle. All that changes when Wade passes the first gate and sees his avatar’s name at the top of a high score list. This makes him the envy not only of regular gunthers, but of a sinister corporation that wants to find the easter egg so it can take over OASIS and turn it into a source of income. Dozens of their employees cheat by playing as a team, ganging up on the other virtual players, and when they can find their real life identities, sometimes attacking in the real world. Wade works to solve the other puzzles and finds friendship and romance (albeit virtual) with other players, but at the same time, he becomes a target, both in real life and the game.
What makes Cline’s book distinctive is its homage to 1980s geek culture. Halliday was in love with that culture, so the OASIS, the gunthers, and the puzzles on the way to the easter egg are all dependent on 80s films, books, role playing games, comics, and music.
If you like computer gaming of any kind or 80s culture, I suspect that you’ll have a blast with this quick reading science fiction adventure novel.
Check the WRL catalog for Ready Player One