I’m proud to be a child of the 80s. It was a decade on the brink of the future, the last before instant global communication was an accessible and everyday occurrence. Our reality was beginning to look like science fiction, thanks to video games. Special effects made our wildest dreams into visual possibilities. We dreamed up the weird and amazing, and found ways to experience it. My generation is now busy creating tomorrow. Ernie Cline gives us a glimpse of that tomorrow in Ready Player One and reminds us of the culture that made us into who we are.
Ready Player One is set just over three decades from now. The world basically sucks, with poverty and hopelessness at an all-time high. Fortunately, game design genius James Halliday has created a massive multiplayer game that has grown into another reality where users can go to school, make money, level up in battle scenarios, or simply enjoy any imaginable setting. But after his passing, Halliday (who was the richest man in the world) offers his fortune and the OASIS world he created to the first person that deciphers a series of pop culture clues, travels to important locales, and finds his game’s hidden Easter Egg. Hundreds of thousands of egg hunters, or gunters, develop a culture obsessed with his favorite decade in a race to win the prize. It’s 2044, but it’s the 1980s all over again. Only now you can hop in your X-Wing, DeLorean, or Serenity and travel to worlds that emulate Dune, Halliday’s favorite boyhood arcade, or popular Dungeons & Dragons modules. Everything you ever loved about pop culture makes an appearance.
I loved playing along with protagonist Wade Watts. And that’s exactly what happens when you read – you find yourself trying to solve Halliday’s incredible riddles to try to earn your own place in the globally-followed high score board. But even if you’re not an expert on all things 80s, you’ll be able to follow along without missing a beat. Cline’s novel is extremely forgiving to those that have never played Adventure on Atari or obsessed over Ultraman episodes. If you had a misspent childhood like me and spent your time memorizing every line of Enter the Dragon instead of getting fresh air, you’ll feel like gunter material, too.
Ready Player One is a clever action puzzle of a book that I would recommend to anyone who likes losing themselves in other worlds (many of which should be familiar). You may or may not recognize all the references, but Cline never fails to explain the importance of each one without going into spaz-levels of detail. The ride is a blast and I promise you will wish multiple times that you could enter the worlds of OASIS. What child of the 80s (or those unfortunates who missed out on the Max Headroom-hosted decade of arcades) hasn’t dreamt of piloting the black lion of Voltron, getting the girl, and saving the world all while an obsessed public waits to see you get the high score?
Ernie Cline will be at Austin Books & Comics signing Ready Player One on Wednesday, August 24th from 4 – 7pm. Tim Doyle’s Fanboys prints will also be available to be signed by Ernie (who wrote the screenplay).