What do you get when you combine one part Ender’s Game with two parts Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, shake, and pour over 1980s-pop-culture-flavored ice cubes?
You get Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, the next book on your reading list.
I discovered Ready Player One during a layover at the Denver International Airport. I had four hours to kill, no internet at my disposal, and it was the only book in the display that wasn’t Fifty Shades of Grey, a random crime novel, or some pundit’s latest money grab. You’re not supposed to like books you find in airports; they’re just meant to entertain you enough to help you (almost) forget the guy to your left hogging your armrest and the guy to your right blocking the window. But Ready Player One was so good, I stayed up until 3am to finish it after reaching my destination.
Ready Player One is the story of unlikely hero Wade Owen Watts, aka Parzival. Wade is overweight, poor, and nearly friendless, living in the post-apocalyptic Oklahoma of 2044. His only means of escape is his computer, into the massive simulated world of OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory-Immersive Simulation). People do business on OASIS, children go to school on OASIS, everyone is on OASIS, and connecting is free as long as you can find equipment. OASIS was created by the mad genius James Halliday and his faithful friend Ogden Morrow. Upon Halliday’s death, a video will is sent to all members of OASIS announcing a contest—whoever is the first to collect three keys hidden as easter eggs in OASIS and pass through the three gates will claim their prize: Halliday’s massive fortune and a controlling stake in Halliday’s company, and thus ownership of OASIS. The twist? Halliday was absolutely obsessed with 80’s pop culture, and everything about the contest is steeped in it. Years pass, no one finds a single egg, and hunting falls away into its own small subculture on the OASIS. Enter Wade, who (under his avatar name Parzival) discovers the first key. Catapulting both himself and the contest into the public eye, Wade must compete not only against fellow hunters, but against thousands of drones from Innovative Online Industries. IOI wants to monetize OASIS, which will not only make the company ludicrously wealthy, but prevent all but the most affluent from accessing it.
But the book is so much more than Wonka dipped in geekdom. It’s a traditional mythic quest. Our hero must not only defeat the dragon, but grow in virtue as well. Princess Peach isn’t locked in a castle, but a member of the campaign party. It blurs the line between fantasy and reality, and raises questions of friendship and sacrifice.
Ready Player One is slowly taking the internet by storm. It won this year’s Prometheus Award. It has its own tumblr. Wil Wheaton reads the audiobook. Cline sold the novel’s movie rights before the book was even published, though that’s probably because he also wrote the script for the film Fanboys. The tumblr tag “ready player one” is filled with people calling the novel “a tumblr user’s wet dream”. The OASIS has its own site, and you can connect to it if you’ve got a MUD client… which conveniently follows the canon of the story. See?
So if you’ve ever been a fan of anything, if you self-identify as geek, if the Internet’s serious business… so pretty much all of you reading this blog… go pick up Ready Player One.