Completed 7/3/2015, Reviewed 7/4/2015
This book came recommended by a Powell’s employee. He said, “If you played video games in the ‘80s, you’ll love it”. I was hesitant. Then I started hearing around that this book had a sort of cult following. So when a friend gave me a Powell’s gift card, I thought, okay, I’ll bite. And what a juicy novel it turned out to be. Part “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”, part “Ender’s Game”, part “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, this virtual adventure kept me reading for almost two days solid. Despite a slow beginning, it was literally one of those books I couldn’t put down.
Wade Watts is an orphan in a future destroyed by the greed of capitalism. His only refuge from his destitute, multi-family double-wide trailer, abusive aunt with her boyfriend du jour existence is playing in the OASIS. This free on-line universe is where he goes to school, visits friends, and of course plays games. The creator of the OASIS has died and his multi-billion dollar empire is up for grabs by anyone who can solve the three-part puzzle. Almost everyone in the OASIS tries to solve it, hoping to be the lucky one to inherit the massive fortune. After five years, Wade stumbles upon the first key. Soon, some of his friends find it, as does IOI, a huge mega-corporation, hoping to finally acquire the OASIS and charge for access to it. Soon Wade and his friends are caught in a deadly race to beat IOI to the end of the puzzle.
As much as I loved this book, I don’t know if it’s for everyone. I have concerns that if you missed the dawn of video games or 80s films, TV, and music, you might not get all the references, and there are tons. The book definitely falls in the sub-genre of meta-fiction, like Jo Walton’s “Among Others”. Half the fun is finding out what video game is part of the next puzzle. If you don’t know the reference, you might not be able to follow the action. But the book is very well written, so I think most people should be able to get caught up in it.
I have to admit, the book is fluff. There is no deep morality here. The good guys are clearly good and worth cheering for. The bad guys are very bad. Most corporations are the bad guys, trying to eke out every penny from the already destitute population, recreating their own debtors’ prison, and turning the government into their castrated puppet. Most people should be able to recognize such themes as Apple vs. Microsoft, Linux vs. Windows, and Comcast against all. There’s even an amusing reference to Cory Doctorow, the author-activist who devotes his energies to freedom of information and post-scarcity economics, and even more amusingly, Wil Wheaton, who is currently enjoying a return to pop culture through his gaming videos and “Big Bang Theory”. The joy of the book lies in Wade Watt’s fight against IOI, trying to stay one step ahead of them, and relying on his love for the OASIS and his obsession with its founder to keep it out of their filthy, greedy paws.
It’s worth noting too, that the author makes sure to be very inclusive. The OASIS isn’t just a haven for asocial boys. Most of the population thrives there. Wade’s strongest competition, besides IOI, is his female friend and romantic obsession Art3mis. I always appreciate when there are strong female characters busting through the target demographics.
I’m the kind of person who cringes when someone says, “You HAVE to read this book” or “You HAVE to see this movie”. If I actually take their advice, I usually have to bust through my own skepticism and apprehension to come to my own fair opinion. With the slow first few chapters of this book, I though I wasn’t going to be able to do it. So I was glad I did because this it was worth it. I was completely immersed in Wade’s world, often having to force myself to breath through some of the sequences. “Ready Player One” is probably one of the most riveting books I’ve read this year. Five out of five stars.