This is not my kind of book. In fact, I only read it because someone else insisted I preview it before they give it a try. I have little interest in cyberlaw (just check out my grade in that class) and know very little about videogame culture, and even less about classic arcade culture. (Except for pinball. Love pinball.)Nevertheless, I gave it a try because I had the same feelings when somebody handed me Ender’s Game, and that novel has since become a habitual re-read for me.
Ready Player One is a dystopian young adult novel set in the year 2044, because you can never have enough of those. (No, seriously, I love a solid dystopia.) Rather than Earth collapsing back into some pre-industrial society after the Great Recession; in this world, the video game is king. Or rather, the OASIS. The OASIS is a virtual reality system which takes people away from their everyday lives in “the stacks,” large slums built of mobile homes and trailers stacked 50 high with multiple families living in each unit. Drug abuse and starvation run rampant, and most people choose to live through their avatars in the OASIS for obvious reasons.
The not-so-obvious reason (to the reader anyway) is the hunt for Halliday’s Easter Egg. You may know that an “Easter egg” is a hidden object or prize hidden in a video game. Halliday was the creator of the OASIS, and after his death, he revealed that he had hidden an Easter egg in the game, and whoever found the egg would inherit his massive fortune. This leads to millions of people becoming egg hunters or “gunters,” including our would-be hero, Wade, a resident of the Stacks without any access to the money and experience, has what it takes to be a real gunter.
His and all other gunters’ enemy? The Sixers. These are employees of IOI, Innovative Online Industries, who would make the OASIS a pay-per-subscription service instead of the free escape it currently is for anyone with the basic system components. This is directly opposed to Halliday’s vision of OASIS, a place to connect and learn. So Wade (and other gunters) must solve the riddle in order to take control of Halliday’s empire and protect it from the Sixers. More or less.
Without giving away any of the plot (really), some reasons to read the book:
- Obsession with 80s culture. The book describes Halliday as being a “huge geek,” which is a high honor in this world. (It also sounds like he would have been functioning somewhere on the spectrum, to be honest, though I don’t think that it is ever directly addressed.) Halliday wanted everyone to like his interests, and his interests were pretty much 1980s pop culture. So the entire world becomes obsessed with 80s pop culture as well. It’s fun and so very recognizable for the reader.
- Art3mis. Is awesome. Our hero has a serious crush on her because she is so damned smart. She probably knows more about what’s going on than anyone else does. And she’s just a really neat character who wants to win with the best of intentions. She plans to save the world, and if she’s a little one note about it, she’s still really, really cool. She also has a take-no-prisoners, smug-as-hell attitude that is never punished, but rather commended. Art3mis is SMART and good at activities that are typically represented as “no girls allowed.” (Did I mention she’s pretty cool?)
- Public Education. Most of our characters attend school in a virtual reality environment. Whether you like it or not, online learning is where public education is headed. It’s cheaper and easier to maintain. Rather than portray virtual learning as a downfall, however, the book points out that it could be a good thing. For instance, because of the way the virtual world works, the students can “spend the day” in the Louvre learning about art first hand, leading to a more immersive learning experience. Maybe it’s a ways off, but it’s still pretty cool.
- Net neutrality. This is a big one right now, and Cline’s criticisms of IOI are direct criticisms of anti-net neutrality bills and programs. IOI would turn the OASIS into a pay-per-connect service, thus taking away many of the learning and work opportunities for the poorer members of the dystopian society. The fiscal gaps would widen and poorer students would have to go to local public schools, which are best described as “failed” in the story. IOI’s systems would reserve education and information to the wealthy, as well as restrict free speech since they would basically own the world.
- Parallels and homages to other quest movies. As the book went on and Wade gained more allies, it began to feel like a traditional quest story, and I often got the feeling that I was reading a modern Wizard of Oz. (It helped that Halliday’s partner had the nickname “Woz” and he was rooting for our young adventurers.) It also felt like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Would someone worthy take over this huge empire? Or would it go to Slugworth? (IOI in this case.) And there were geeky Easter eggs of a sort hidden throughout the book, too. A firefly-class ship named Kaylee? Made me smile for a few pages.
- The Internet as a way to get past racism/sexism/discrimination based on sexual orientation. You can be anyone you want on the Internet, and your avatar can look however you want it to. Spoiler: Overweight African American woman uses a white male avatar in all of her online business “Because of the marked difference it made in how she was treated and the opportunities she was given.” There is, however, no “catfishing.” Rather, online relationships are portrayed as being just as real as IRL friendships and relationships, even though you can change how the world perceives you. I really, really liked that.
I know it’s the year to read books by women, and Ernest C. Cline is a man. But it’s a good, easy read that you’ll enjoy. It’ll will make you wish there was a sequel. And have you seen the weather outside? It’s not like you want to leave your house anyway.
You can also visit the author’s website. He’s a pretty funny guy, and the level of geek on there will make your eyes open. (He modded and gave away a DeLorean as part of the promotion for the book. Seriously.)