Book review: Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

The year is 2044. Society is gradually collapsing. Most people are living outside cities in mobile homes stacked on top of each other to make huge slums called The Stacks. Wade Watts is living in one of those trailers with his aunt and six other people. He’s 18, about to graduate from high school, and like most people spends most of his waking hours logged in to the Oasis, a virtual universe created by a late genius named James Halliday. The Oasis is like Second Life on steroids. There are entire planets within it, and everyone has an avatar. People go to the Oasis to forget about their grim realities.
James Halliday grew up in the 1980s and was a huge fan of all the pop culture of that decade – TV, movies, comics, and especially video games. When Halliday died, he left a video will, leaving his vast fortune to the person that could solve a riddle that he created and find an egg hidden somewhere within Oasis.  People have been trying for years – not only individuals, known as “gunters” (contracted from egg hunters) but an evil corporation called IOI.  Wade has been trying too, and spends most of his time studying the 1980s pop culture that Halliday loved so much, looking for clues.
Then, one day, Wade finds the first key to the riddle, and the chase is on.
I loved this book. I was a teenager in the 1970s, but was familiar enough with almost all of the 1980s references to understand how they carried the plot forward. Wade is a likable hero, just a poor kid trying to win a fortune so he can get out of the stacks and have a chance at a decent life. The world of the Oasis is so richly drawn that it was easy to imagine the action in my head. The book also made me think about the possibility of representing myself to the world as an avatar. If you could appear as an avatar, would it look like you, or would you disguise yourself? What are the consequences of immersing yourself in a virtual world at the expense of your real life?
If you’ve ever played a video game (or Dungeons and Dragons), if you grew up in the 1980s and have fond memories of the TV and movies of the day, or if you just like David vs. Goliath stories with a few great twists, you will probably love this book.

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