I'd read a lot of reviews naming Ernest Cline's Ready Player One as one of the best speculative fiction novels of 2011. I took my time getting around to reading it, but I'm glad I finally did. It's a very good book.
The book's given circumstances are that it's 2044 in an America torn by economic disaster, where the OASIS online game is the most popular entertainment. OASIS is also used as a platform for work and for educating kids who don't do well, or who get bullied out of, traditional schools. When the inventor of OASIS dies, a video he recorded (complete with Oingo Boingo's "Dead Man's Party" as theme music) discloses that his company and personal fortune is available to anyone who can finish three quests he has hidden in the system. The problem is that no one has ever found the gate to the first quest. At least, not until the hero, a high school student named Wade, stumbles across Halliday's Easter egg.
The huge rush of 1980s nostalgia brought back memories of my childhood. I was born in 1968, so the 1980s covered my teen years. The book's also perfect for a generation that was born in or after the 1980s and didn't get to experience it the first time around. With the popularity of the '80s on the rise, it's no surprise that Ready Player One found a home.
One of the book's conceits is that everyone attempting to solve Halliday's puzzle learns as much as they can about 1980s culture, with which Halliday was fascinated. Memorizing every line from WarGames, playing Pac-Man, and watching every John Hughes movie isn't just fun, it's seen as a way to gain an edge in the hunt for the Egg. One scene in a private OASIS clubhouse, where the participants one-up each other with 1980s trivia, reminds me of hanging out with a friend who had watched Star Wars over 300 times. He could go through it line for line, even if no one wanted him to.
The novel's antagonist is Innovative Online Industries, a corporation that uses its considerable resources to mine the OASIS for gold and items, a direct reflection of contract players who level up characters and complete quests in games such as World of Warcraft. Cline also postulates some interesting ways that current trends in corporate governance and legislation could play out. For example, he includes an interesting projection of how debtor's prison and workhouses could be brought back if the power of corporations continues to increase. Even better, he used that analysis to further the plot.
I also liked that Cline reflects online culture in that he protagonist's clan, the group that collects to find the Egg, forms based on interest, not geography. We're also reminded that everyone who uses the network has a physical self when the antagonist's corporation blows up Wade's trailer and later finds and kills one of his clan members. Finally, Wade smuggled information out of IOI's corporate headquarters using flash drives with what are, by today's standards, huge capacities. Will be interesting to see how those storage amounts stand up. The size of data volumes in Johnny Mnemonic, which were gargantuan at the time, seem rather quaint now.
Cline's writing is quite good. I liked that the reader often sees the result of an action and then gets the explanation of how and why the action started. The debt collection sequence is one such example.
Ready Player One lives up to the praise heaped upon it. Highly recommended.
Curtis Frye is the editor of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of more than 20 books, most recently Improspectives. He has also written more than 20 books for Microsoft Press and O'Reilly Media, and has created more than a dozen online training courses for lynda.com. In addition to his writing, Curt is a keynote speaker and entertainer. You can find more information about him at www.curtisfrye.com.