Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I don't do a whole ton of book reviews, but the book I just finished reading was so unbelievable, so imaginative, so original and so seemingly ripped from the very corner of my heart that contains everything geeky and fantastic that I have ever loved, that I just had to tell you all about it.

Now that I think about it, this isn't really a review so much as it is a love letter.

Ready Player One is the kind of story every self-professed geek has always wanted to read, or maybe even write themselves, but more probably wanted to live.

Here's my quickie, spoiler free run-down of the story: About 40 or so years in the future, the planet is ravaged by ecological disasters and the human population is massively over-crowded, losing energy resources fast and every system we have ever counted on is on the verge of collapse. But that really doesn't matter because most people live their lives virtually in the Oasis, sort of a mix between Second Life, Facebook, Amazon, Phoenix University and every MMO ever created all rolled into one. In fact, it's such a massive online environment that it basically replaces the internet as we know it now. People of all walks of life practically live every waking moment in the Oasis through the use of virtual reality visors, special interactive gloves and other forms of immersive equipment. The Oasis is where you can literally go to school, go to work, fight Orcs, become a Jedi, buy your groceries or live out any other fantasy your little heart could want.

When the creator of Oasis kicks the bucket (imagine a combined Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Benjamin Franklin and Sheldon from Big Bang Theory), he's one of the last gazillionaires on a planet full of poor, starving saps. The kicker is that he has no heirs, so, being the creator of the world largest online game/world and a lover of classic games from his teen years in the '80s, he hides an Easter Egg somewhere in the vastness of the Oasis. This Easter Egg can only be found by finding three keys that open three gates that will all test you before allowing you to move on. And every clue that leads you to each key and each gate is hidden within some form of geeky 1980s pop culture, be it video games, roleplaying games, TV sitcoms, movies, Japanese animation, comic books, pop music or what-have-you.

Know your '80s pop culture well enough, then you can solve the clues, find the keys, find the gates, beat the tests and possibly find the Easter Egg, which will win you all of the inventor's vast fortune.

The story is told from the point of view of one of these young egg hunters (called "Gunters" for short), but not just any Gunter. No, this chap is the very one who finds the first key after five years of people trying since the creator's death, instantly making him a world-wide living legend, if he can keep himself alive, that is.

You see, he's not the only Gunter, they are legion, and fiercely competative to a dangerous degree. And to make matters worse, there's a  huge army of hired faceless boot-boy Gunters sent out into the Oasis by a massive corporate monster that plans to find the Easter Egg and use the fortune that comes with it to take over the Oasis and turn it into a money-making corporate wasteland for only the few who can afford it.

This is just the first couple of chapters.

After that it's a non-stop ride full of classic videogame trivia, Dungeons & Dragons monsters come to life, battling giant Japanese robots, Firefly-class spaceships, Deloreans, anti-gravity night-clubs, adorable geek girls and... wait... I probably shouldn't say any more.

The characters are rich and likable, the evil doers are sinister and worthy of the reader's ire. The plot is ingenious, the pace is heart-pounding.

My biggest regret is that this book isn't already the first in a trilogy. Ready Player One is the kind of book that makes whatever unfortunate book I pick up next suck by default, because nothing compares to this story.

My fellow geeks, this is our Catcher in the Rye. This is our Fahrenheit 451. This is our 1984.

You know what. Screw it. I'm going to read it again. Later.