Hey you! You ready? What happens when you take the basic good vs evil story, mix in as much 1980’s pop culture as possible, throw in the multiversal virtual reality that is the internet and shove it all in a book? Well, Ernest Cline got Ready Player One and frankly it’s done so well, I’m not really bothered what you got.
I don’t claim to be a big buff of videogames, TV, movies and music from my own era, let alone the 1980’s but eighteen year old Wade Watt’s knowledge puts me to shame, I might as well be wearing the dunce hat of geekery and hand him the golden crown. He has spent every day of the last 5 years wired into the internet (known as the OASIS) via his gloves and visor, obsessing over 1980’s pop culture. I tell myself, “This kid needs a life.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.
This is his life. It’s 2044 and the world has gone to shit: pollution, overpopulation, food shortage and unemployment have finally dug their claws into the world and it’s dying. The worst is the introduction of the OASIS system, a hybrid of the internet and virtual reality, which is leading to people escaping from and neglecting the real world. In 2039, James Halliday (the eccentric and reclusive creator of OASIS) passed away, releasing the news that he had hidden the ultimate Easter Egg in the game: his estate, his £400 billion inheritance, and the controlling stock shares of OASIS. Whoever found it would own it all. No questions asked, no loopholes. It wasn’t going to be an easy task. His unhealthy obsession with the 80’s would force players to know everything about his mania to find the three keys required to unlock the three gates guarding the Easter Egg. Wade’s ridiculous amount of knowledge on stuff that happened nearly 50 years before he was born was to prepare him for this task. Needless to say it makes you want to watch, play, read and listen to everything he mentions because they are so deliciously nerdy, you just gotta have a slice of that pie!
So we follow Wade through his adventures in the OASIS as Parzival the Gunter (not to be confused with the Urban Dictionary definition). Gunters are Egg Hunters, people or clans that actively seek the Egg. But adventuring through OASIS is no easy feat. Cline spends a good few pages describing the vastness of the universe of it. There are magic-based sectors of the universe and technology-based sectors; magic won’t work in a technology sector and vice versa, but there are chaotic sectors where they both clash together in a beautiful display of laser-shooting unicorns. Hey, a girl can dream.
Needless to say you’ll be as happy as a kid in, well, a videogame. You can stroll through Azeroth, explore worlds recreated from D&D adventures, visit Star Trek worlds and ships and play in worlds based on Atari games. Anything you can think of will be in the OASIS. The player options are even more immense: Parzival drives a DeLorean with the Ghostbusters logo and a Kitt scanner and dashboard. Not necessarily my picks for a “shaggin’ waggin’” but it’s pretty damn close.
We aren’t always left in the OASIS. We get to meet Wade as himself, an orphan growing up in a trailer park who stereotypically is overweight and spotty, with no real world social skills to boot. We get intervals in the competition to move around and stretch our legs in the real world and it’s here we see the power of the Sixers, a massive corporation that manipulates the competition and seeks control over the OASIS, starting with monthly subscriptions and fees. I think we can all agree how much that sucks. They go to such extreme lengths as even throwing one of their rivals out his bedroom window and oh yeah trying to blow up Wade. Did I mention that this was in the real world?
While the Sixers add a whole different level of pressure and pace to the story, we also have the scoreboard that shows the whole world who is in the lead and closest to the Egg. When the names start skipping and shifting, you find yourself racing to the next listing and the next, until finally you’re amidst a battle with Mecha-Godzilla and Ultraman. I know. I thought it was amazing too. It’s here however that I draw the line with all the pop cultures and references. I enjoy the irony of the people in the future being obsessed with the past but at times references seem to be thrown in there just for the sake of it. You begin to get the sense that you aren’t necessarily enjoying the book for the story (which is basic without them) and the writing (which relies on them), but for the amount that you get and understand. It has arguably too much of the work of other people in it but it doesn’t lack originality in the application. I mean who wouldn’t love play to characters in the Monty Python’s The Holy Grail as the movie rolls on, or play Joust against a demi-lich in a D&D encounter?
Needless to say, I loved this book. Yes, it’s a little rough and the slow parts drag but they are few and far between. The 1980’s pop culture definitely makes it what it is and it’s encouraging to see great ideas work with old aspects that have been used, done and seen time and time again. If you pick it up for a read, you’ll only put it down when it’s done, so you best have a couple days free for it and all of the movies, games or TV series it makes you want to re-watch and replay.