‘Ready Player One’ is the debut novel of Ernest Cline. The author wrote this novel as a tribute to all the writers, game designers, musicians, and filmmakers of the 1980s.
The story opens in the year 2044. Humans have nearly exhausted all their resources, the fuel crisis has sky-rocketed and people live in stacks, which are trailers piled on top of one another. People spend their time jacked into the OASIS, a virtual utopia created by James Halliday, a video game designer. This virtual world functions as a Massively multiplayer online role-playing game and as a virtual society. If you have an OASIS console, and a pair of haptic gloves, then you can log into OASIS and escape into a perfect virtual world. Since transportation has become expensive due to the fuel crisis, everything is done through OASIS: Kids go to school, adults work, old people listen to sermons, everything is done through OASIS. You don’t really go anywhere, it is only your avatar, or your virtual self that does all this.
James Halliday, the creator of OASIS, is a multi-billionaire obsessed with the 1980s pop culture. He promises the world that after his death, his fortune will go to the person who finds the easter egg he has painstakingly hidden somewhere in the OASIS. The entire world gears up to find this egg and among them is Wade Owen Watts, a teenager. Everybody knows that the key to finding the egg is Halliday’s obsession with the 1980s. The egg hunters call themselves the “gunters”. Years pass and nobody succeeds in finding the first clue to the puzzle. In the year 2045, 18-year-old Wade stumbles onto the copper key, creating history by making himself the first person who has a chance at winning Halliday’s fortune. He competes with his friends, and with the IOI, an evil internet service provider that aims to take over OASIS and monetize it. The agents of this organization will do anything to ensure that they get the egg, even kill.
The book is an amazing read, being crazy about video games myself I know the excitement one feels when one is playing a video game or a computer game. You can be anything you like – a wizard, a warrior, or even a superhero. It is all up to you, your actions govern the outcome of the game. In a video game you have many lives and can always start over.
The book is divided into three sections called ‘levels’ following the theme of video games. Each level shows a development in the hunt for the egg. The novel is completely steeped in the pop culture of the 1980s. The author makes too many references to the video games, books, and movies of 1980s that it actually becomes annoying. Most of the references are lost as I can’t relate to what the author is implying.
An aspect the author addresses is how people become so immersed in a virtual world that they don’t know how to live in the real world, and in most cases do not have a ‘real ‘ life. The characters in this book barely interact in the real world. The idea which is evident right from the page is that you can’t run away from life forever, you have to face it .
Wade Owen Watts is a teenager who seeks solace in the virtual world like all the others. He lives in a trailer in Oklahoma City. He is a gunter who wishes to inherit Halliday’s fortune. He has more or less mastered every thing that comes under the pop culture of the 1980s. There is this instance where he remembers all the dialogues of some movies belonging to the 1980s, which is not very believable.
Wade is not an ideal hero as he too runs away from reality. He is heroic considering the extend he goes to achieve his dream, whether he succeeds or not you will get to know by the end of the book. Spending his life in OASIS doesn’t mean that he has no time for love. He meets Artemis, a fellow female gunter and falls in love with her. But there is a catch, since every single interaction you have with others is through the OASIS, nobody knows anyone else’s true identity. So it’s not surprising that almost everybody in this novel has trust issues. By falling in love with Artemis, who he believes to be a girl, he is even rigidly tying himself to the virtual world. Wade’s character overshadows all the other characters in the novel, as we get to know more about him than anyone else.
All the events that happen towards the end seem stretched, nevertheless it’s a great read.
Compared to the popular dystopian series like ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘The Divergent series’, the world depicted in this book is not as as cutthroat as the worlds depicted in those novels.
I would recommend this novel to geeks, people who like science fiction and don’t mind countless references to the pop culture of the 1980s.