By 2044 the world as we know it has crumbled into a poverty stricken dystopia, where the poor live crammed into the stacks – cheap tower blocks formed out of dozens of trailers – while the only really rich people seem to be those behind the OASIS – the free-to-use virtual multiverse into which most people choose to escape at every opportunity.
Ready Player One is the story of Wade ‘Parzival’ Watts, an orphan from the Oklahoma Stacks, who is obsessed with finding the ultimate Easter Egg: control of the OASIS, and it’s creator’s massive fortune, which is promised to the first person to can solve a series of riddles hidden within the OASIS.
It being 2044, and the riddler (James Halliday) having died in his 60s a few years prior, the riddles are based on 1980s pop culture – which pretty much makes it a book written specifically for me. OK, Dungeons and Dragons and the TRS-80 were not really part of my childhood, but Pac-Man, War Games, Monty Python, Blade Runner… there’s even a cameo appearance by a ZX80. What’s not to love?
Unless, of course, all these 80s references are just crammed into 400 pages with no thought for such incidentals as plot or characters. Luckily, that’s not the case; once Parzival solves the first clue, he is suddenly thrust into the public eye – and the eye of corporate behemoth Innovative Online Industries, which wants to win the hunt, take control of the OASIS, and promptly remove ‘free-to-use’ from its list of selling points. From there the stakes only get higher, as Parzival faces challenges real and virtual on his quest, competing against the corporate might of IOI, fellow gunters (notably Art3mis, a blogger he has long admired from afar) and his best friend Aech.
Once the hunt really starts the story rattles along at a good pace, but even before that, the massive info-dumps in the early chapters are sufficiently well-written and interesting that I felt no need to skip ahead.
There are no real twists in the plot, although there is a fairly decent kink towards the end which I enjoyed. My main criticism of the story would be that the final act seemed rushed, and lacked the tension I would have expected in such circumstances.
Even so, this is easily one of my favourite novels ever now, and a serious competitor for the Book I Most Wish I Had Written.
If you’re a gamer, or if you remember the 80s, this is well worth a look. If you’re both, and haven’t read it yet, well, you know what to do…