I read the first few chapters of Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” the day before I had to return it to the library, which was a big mistake because I got completely hooked and then realized my next turn in the booklending queue wasn’t going to come around for more than a month. It was agony! Luckily my friend Jen stepped in and lent me her copy before I wore the mouse button down clicking refresh on the library website.
Multi-billionaire creator of the VR Oasis, James Halliday, has passed away and left his enormous fortune to anyone who can solve the mysterious 80’s-themed puzzles he’s left behind. An subculture of obsessive clue-hunters forms, and teenaged Wade Watts, who’s been steeped in 80’s ephemera through his childhood, is single-mindedly devoted to solving Halliday’s labyrinthian mystery.
I want to give this one a glowing recommendation, but I think the audience who will take as much from it as I did are a really thin slice of the population. If you dig 80’s nostalgia, retro video games, and science fiction, this is a brilliant narrative that draws from all kinds of amazing reference material that tingles all the right nerve centers. But it’s a love it or hate it thing – I could see this book becoming an unbearable slog to someone who didn’t get the references, particularly if they were born too late to have lived any of it. I think the title is pretty clever – I suspect you can know from the outset if it’s for you. 😉
The action scenes, mostly set in the VR world, are epic and hilarious. Despite the nerdy tone of the book, there’s quite a lot of good character development and a few twists to keep things interesting, including an ongoing virtual romance that Wade worries may not be what it appears.
A few beefs with the book – the characters have an implausible recollection of the most obscure 80’s details – having actually lived that decade firsthand I could scarcely remember most of the references and a bunch of it went way over my head. It hardly matters though – the clues are so vague and specific to situations in the book, that they’re impossible to solve until the characters work out their significance. I would have liked to play along!
Secondly, during a plot twist in the latter half of the book, Wade gets into some serious trouble, but suddenly starts magically exhibiting superhuman hacking skills that, while convenient for driving the story forward, seemed incredibly unlikely given everything we knew about him to that point. That bit of the story is entertaining, but I kept wondering what other magical skills he was going to manifest next time he was in trouble.
Overall a terrific read – it’s an early lead for my book of the year!