Last Friday, I wasn’t feeling so hot, so for the first time ever in the year I’ve been at my job, I called in sick. Last week has involved a lot of running around and stress, among which included a weekend youth retreat, picking up time with my dad at his auction house (something I really do love doing), and work as it usually is. This, coupled with my regular exposure to sick people, probably inspired my Thursday night gut-retching, so I decided to put myself on the bench and take it easy for a day.
In addition to answering my body’s cry for help, my puke-inspired day off also gave me the free time to read another book off the list: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This was another of my “book-in-one-day” attempts, and I succeeded, not because of its small size (as was the case with Of Mice and Men), but its fast-paced story, compelling look at social media interaction in the 21st Century, and its myriad references to all things 80’s pop-culture.
Ready Player One is a dystopian science fiction novel set in the not-too-distant year of 2044, where the world is having energy, food, and population crisis. This is also a time period where the majority of the earth’s population utilizes a virtual reality massively multiplayer online game called The OASIS for everyday living (except eating, sleeping, and exercise). While it started out only as a video game, OASIS quickly evolved into the primary manner of social interaction for the planet’s population. Without any notice, the creator (James Halliday) dies, and a video is released giving a clue to an Easter Egg hidden within the game, the finder of which to be rewarded with his vast fortune. The story follows a young man named Wade Watts (online alias Parzival), who is part of a subculture of self described “gunters” (Easter Egg hunter) who obsessively study 80‘s pop culture (Halliday’s own personal obsession) in an effort to find the Easter Egg and win the the game.
Now, the plot is pretty straightforward; it actually follows the same line as many of those 80’s action/adventure films we all watched as kids, with a romance story thrown in on the side, but where it shines is in the overwhelming amount of nostalgia present for anyone who lived through enough of the 80’s to remember all the movies, music, books, and video games that came about during that strange decade. Watts has all kinds of adventures that involve him doing things like acting out the entire movie of Wargames, challenging a demi-lich (from the D&D Quest Tomb of Horrors) to a Joust competition, and even playing the riffs to the “Discovery” portion to Rush’s song “2112.” There’s more than just a slice of 80’s culture here; it’s a whole pie. I sat and read this book for eight hours straight, geeking out the whole way through it.
The other standout feature to Ready Player One is its pretty blatant commentary on social media and the Internet. Throughout the book, Watts has a small circle of gunter friends he hangs out with, including a girl on whom he has a cyber crush, but he’s never met any of them in real life. This leads to complications between him and his crush; when they try to have a relationship, their distance (as well as the Hunt) makes things difficult. It takes a long, hard look at what a world where everyone knows each other virtually, and finds that, though friendship can be found there, nothing is better than the real world for relationships.
Overall, this book is an excellent, smooth read, suited for anyone who lived through the eighties and wants a good dash of nostalgia on top of a half-decent plot line (I’m a sucker for dystopian novels). Check it out!