So far I have only done one book review on this blog. I read more than that of course, I just stick to talking about books that echo the themes of this blog. The novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline does just that.
Ready Player One is one of the latest young adult dystopian books, though not as sick and twisted as the highly overrated Hunger Games. It is set in the 2040’s when gas is so scarce that everyone abandons the suburbs for the big cities, but the cities don’t have room. Oklahoma City comes up with the idea to build highrise trailer parks. The books protagonist 17 year old Wade lives in the laundry room of a double wide, occupied by his aunt, her latest boyfriend, and two other families.
But Wade spends most of his time hiding in an abandoned van in a junk yard which he powers with a bicycle powered generator. He jacks into a 3D Virtual World called OASIS, which thanks to technology allowing thousands of players to play in an area lag free, OASIS has become the 3D internet. Wade attends a virtual high school, getting a better education than he would in an overcrowded school he lives in.
You can probably understand why I like this book so much. The world is very similar to Snow Crash in that there are two worlds, a dystopian stink hole called the real world, and a utopian paradise everyone prefers to live in. Ready Player One has a distinct advantage over Snow Crash, however, 20 years of hindsight. Many of the conceptual ideas of the “Metaverse” in Snow Crash seem rather dumb with today’s technology. OASIS, on the other hand, seems plausible if you take today’s technology and project it forward three decades.
A major theme of the book is the difference between the online world and the real world. Our avatar personification vs. who we really are; Living in a fantasy world vs. dealing with the real world. I have delved deeper than the novel has on these topics, but the novel does a good job dealing with them.
The central plot involves the creator of OASIS, a game designer turned multibillionaire who upon his death wills nearly the entirety of his estate, including control of OASIS to whoever can solve the hidden puzzle he left behind hidden somewhere in the OASIS world.
With such a huge prize everyone goes out looking for it, but the puzzle is so well hidden, that 5 years go by before anyone manages to discover the beginning of the puzzle (which has 6 parts, 3 keys and 3 gates). The person who discovers it is Wade.
I have mentioned a couple of times how different the world will get once energy starts to get scarce, and how gaming will become a welcome escape from that reality. Here is a book that echoes that theme in a very entertaining way.
There is another interesting part I have yet to mention. It seems that the mad gaming designer grew up during the 1980’s, and is obsessed with the books, games, comics, music and movies of that decade. Solving the central puzzle requires expert knowledge of this material, and the players dedicated to solving the puzzle have to become experts on the 1980’s pop culture. Lots of this novel is filled with references to the ’80s. Being someone who grew up in the 80’s as well, I got all the references and knew all the songs referenced in the novel.
This unfortunately may be the biggest negative of the book, there is too much 80’s references which are likely to get lost on kids who grew up in later decades. Since this is a “young adult” novel aimed at teen audiences, I’m not sure how well it will go over with the target audience. But it did go over well with me. Ernest Cline created an “official soundtrack” here if you want to hear many of the songs referenced in the novel. You might also want to familiarize yourself with the movies WarGames, Ladyhawke, Blade Runner, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail if you don’t already know them (If you don’t then shame on you, they are classics). There are major references to the games Pac Man, Tempest, Joust, Adventure, Black Tiger, Dungeons of Daggorath and Zork, too.
Since this book seems like it was written specifically for me, I ran through it in a few days time. General audiences may not be as well versed in these subjects as I am, though the author does spend a lot of time explaining things for the general reader’s benefit (mostly unnecessary in my case).
The book is currently available hard copy and e-book via links at the Official Site, paperback and cheaper e-books coming in June.