Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The geek shall inherit the earth

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
  • Are your action figures in their original packaging?
  • Can you mix a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster?
  • Have you spent more than eight hours at a stretch playing World of Warcraft?
  • Do you speak Klingon or Elvish?
  • Have you seen Return of the Jedi more than 12 times?
  • Have you attended Comic-Con?
If you said “yes” to any of these questions (and quite possibly if you didn’t), then you need to read Ernest Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player One. Trust me on this. The novel opens in 2044. Things aren’t looking too good in the real world. So much so, that much of the population spends the majority of their time in the OASIS, “the massively-multiplayer online game that had gradually evolved into the globally networked virtual reality most of humanity now used on a daily basis.” People hold jobs in the OASIS. There are marriages that exist only in the OASIS. It’s more real than reality, and certainly preferable.

The OASIS had been created by an inventor named James Halliday. When the reclusive multi-billionaire died without an heir, a challenge was set in motion. Halliday had hidden an “Easter egg” somewhere in the OASIS, and had left behind fiendishly difficult clues. Whoever solved the clues to complete three virtual challenges and find the egg would win his vast estate. In the five years since the challenge began, much of world has become consumed with the hunt. It’s the ultimate golden ticket. Many people are professional egg hunters, or “gunters,” as they are known. They spend their days and nights immersed in the popular culture that made up James Halliday’s formative years—primarily the 1970s and ‘80s—as it is widely believed that knowing what he knew, loving what he loved, will be the path to winning.

The story is told in the first person voice of Wade Watts, an 18-year-old gunter. Wade was brought up in a world far different from Halliday’s idealized youth, yet he too sits around watching re-runs of Family Ties and obsessively playing Atari and Intellevision video games, hoping this knowledge will give him the edge in the hunt for Halliday’s egg—and it just might, because after five years with zero progress, Wade Watts is the first person in the world to solve one of the clues. Readers get to follow Wade on an epic adventure.

I’ll be honest; I’m not the person I described in the opening of this review. I’m not a big fan of science fiction. I don’t dress in costumes. I’m just not that geeky. I am, however, a mere three years older than the fictional James Halliday, and his formative years were my own. And I have to tell you that I LOVED this romp through the pop culture that has formed my world! Ernest Cline’s debut is funny, thrilling, adventurous, and more than a little thought-provoking.

As I read, I found myself reflecting on Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. It’s not that the two novels are alike exactly, but like Shteyngart, Cline has looked at elements in contemporary culture and extrapolated a disturbingly… I don’t want to say “plausible,” but, yeah, kinda plausible future. An exaggerated future based on certain trends in our use of technology today. Cline exaggerated different social elements than Shteyngart did, but the outcome is just as entertaining, disquieting, and funny. Wade is a tremendous, likable guide through this future/past world and Cline does an amazing job creating a cast of characters that transcend the avatars that represent them.

In short, this middle-aged, not-so-geeky girl can’t say enough good things about this paean to pop culture. Do yourself a favor and check Ready Player One out! In a word, it is AWESOME!


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  2. Putting it on the "to buy" list. I've been hearing more and more hype about this novel.