Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Wow.  Now this was a fantastic book.  From the beginning, I could not wait to get back to the book, from whatever it was that was tearing me away from it--friends, family, vacation... Must... Read... Book....

I keep picking up books hoping that they'll actually transport me elsewhere -- take me to the land of the book and not left on my couch reading a book.  Where others have failed, Cline succeeded.

This book takes place in the the not-too-distant future, after the "Great Recession" has left the world a bleeding dump of what it was in the (now) past.  Trailer Parks have been built up into stacks, with RVs and mobile homes being stacked 15-20 homes high, most people have abandoned their vehicles because of the prohibitive cost of gasoline, food is a scarce resource, and fossil fuels have been burned up, leaving energy itself endangered.

Yet, there is OASIS.  Originally designed as an "MMA" (multiple player video game), the OASIS quickly became a virtual reality for almost everyone in the world, with people "plugging in" as often and for as long as they could.  The creator of the OASIS - Jim Halliday - dies, leaving behind his fortune to whoever wins "the game" -- whoever collects the 3 keys and passes the 3 gates first.  For the next five years, no one finds even the first key... but then, it's on....

Yeah it's hard to describe.  I'm not a gamer and didn't play most of the games mentioned in the book (of course I played pac man).  Halliday was born almost a decade before I was, so all of his nostalgia kind of just missed me.  I have seen several of the movies mentioned... but then again, there were a slew that I had not.  This book is not just nostalgia-crack and it's definitely not just for gamers.

The brilliance of this book is that it's set in the not-too-distant future, realistic in many ways, with a quality of virtual reality that is probably just around the corner from today... so it's almost not even sci-fi or fantasy.  Yet through OASIS, the participant can do just about anything--visit planets described in books, be a wizard or a fairy, actually play a character in a movie, even go to school--anything someone can think of aside from the necessary bodily functions... of course, all for a cost (actual money).  So, at the beginning of the book, the main character, Wade Watts, doesn't have access to anything.  Essentially, just some kiddie video games, the public library, and school.  But he's smart, resourceful, and willing to devote serious amounts of time to the game.

But the brilliance of this book is the relatability -- Wade Watts is some shy, dorky kid, who is insecure and only able to come out of his shell behind the safety of the virtual reality lens.  But somehow this shy, dorky, insecure kid is the hero of the book, and somehow you believe it and root for it.  And somehow maybe it feels a little bit like you.

But the brilliance of this book is that it abounds with descriptions of games and movies that at least some of its readers (e.g., me) have never played, seen, or even heard of, and yet it's so. freaking. fascinating.  I just ate it all up.

But the brilliance of this book is that, when I wasn't reading... I started to almost believe that some of what was happening in the book (the "future" stuff) was possible, happening, present.

So yeah, I absolutely loved this book.  I always hope to read a book that takes me there and makes me believe that it's real, and makes me feel connected to the characters, and makes me actually care about the outcome.  And here it was.  Willy Wonka really did meet the Matrix here.

I *really* hope there's a movie someday!
FIVE out of five stars.

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