Not many novels hold my attention long enough for me to finish reading them. I used to have a fifty page test, which gave any book that I was reading a reasonable amount of time to get its hooks into me and compel me to finish it.
With not enough time to do all of the stuff that I really want to do, a book/movie/game/album really has to grab me in order for me to keep going with it – there’s always something else out there that I could be enjoying and if I’m not into the world that the artist is creating, I don’t see the point in continuing the charade that I’m enjoying it.
I can honestly say that Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” is the best thing that I’ve read in a while – Cory Doctorow’s “For the Win” comes a close second – and is certainly the best book that I’ve read this year.
If you grew up in the 1980s, then this book is absolutely and completely for you. It’s a dynamic, propulsive adventure tale driven by puzzles, nerdy arcana, a dizzying grab bag of pop cultural references (I promise you – at one point in the novel, I found myself thinking “Y’know, it sure would be great if Cline found a way to work ‘Real Genius‘ into this story”, only for him to do just that, mid-way down the page that I was reading. Spooky).
The plot revolves around a fairly grim future, beset by environmental blight, energy shortages and mass poverty – a world which most people willingly escape from by logging into OASIS, a virtual reality evolution of the Internet which allows users to submerge themselves in an infinite series of user-created worlds, games and quests.
When the reclusive inventor of OASIS James Halliday dies, his last legacy is to leave the users of the OASIS a game whose eventual prize is control of OASIS itself and of Halliday’s vast fortune.
It’s Xbox Live meets Second Life and Facebook on Energy Drinks informed by the pop culture of the 1980s and far more glorious than that pat series of analogies can possibly do justice to.
The novel’s blurb from “True Blood” author Charlaine Harris absolutely says it best – “I loved every page”. I did too. And she, by her own admission, is not a gamer.
Not that you have to be, because Cline does an excellent job of explaining the likes of “Zork”, “Pac-Man” and “Joust” to people who may never have picked up a controller or jabbed buttons in a furious effort to stave off imminent virtual death. Similarly, if you’ve never seen an eighties-released fantasy film, this novel will have you seeking out the Jim Henson back catalogue, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension!” and “Ladyhawke” so that you can see what you’ve been missing.
Given that 80’s pop culture seems to have been directly influencing contemporary music and fashion for at least the last five years (being of a certain age, it’s impossible not to watch Lady Gaga and feel that her stuff’s fine but you preferred it when it was called “True Blue” and by Madonna) it seems like the perfect time for this book to have been written. If you can’t understand a reference – and there were a few which had me hurtling in the direction of the internet for confirmation – you’ve got a damn good chance of decoding it with a brief diversion to Google on your smartphone.
And how much like science fiction does that last sentence sound to anybody who remembers loading their home computer games from cassette tapes?
I should do some summing up. This is a wonderful novel. If you loved the pop culture of the 1980s, consider yourself an unashamed geek and need to read something which will leave you a warm glow for hours after you’ve finished it, you need to pick up this book.
It’s sheer, nerdy undiluted joy.