I’m less impressed with this novel than the author is with himself. As dazzling as the the story can be, (and it has a few genuinely great moments) it ultimately collapses in on itself. The never-ending onslaught of 1980s pop culture minutia and name-checking, reduces the entire novel to a level of superficiality of a Knight Rider episode. The characters are as flat and two-dimensional as PacMan.
Ready Player One takes place in the not-so-distant future. The world has become a very bleak place, but luckily there is OASIS, a virtual reality world that has grown into an online utopia. People plug into OASIS to play, go to school, earn money, and even meet other people – or at least their avatars. For Wade Watts it certainly beats passing the time in his grim, poverty-stricken real life. Along with millions of other world-wide citizens, Wade dreams of finding three keys left behind by James Halliday, the now-deceased creator of OASIS and the richest man to have ever lived. Halliday grew up in the golden age of the 1980s in the United States, and OASIS is an extreme (and fully enveloping) immersion in that decade, movies, music and most of all … video games.
The keys are rumored to be hidden inside OASIS, and whoever finds them will inherit Halliday’s fortune. But Halliday has not made it easy – he has created real life dangers in his virtual world. All across the globe, players are exploring OASIS looking for the keys and suddenly one day, Wade discovers one and the international race is on! Wade, with the help of several other on-line avatars, challenge Halliday’s games, puzzles, and contests, with clues drenched in full tilt 80s nostalgia.
I was not an 80s gamer kid (I grew up in the previous decade) so for me, a lot of this name-checking various geek/fanboy bits of 80s culture quickly became an irritating distraction of a fairly ingenious story. I got the impression that author Ernest Cline is that guy at a party who spends the entire evening trying to impress everyone by talking about and quoting endlessly every single song/movie/tv show/videogame he’s ever enjoyed. At some point you just want him to shut up!
So finally, after 380 pages of being bombarded with more Journey and Rush lyrics that I needed to hear, or bad 80s movies I never wanted to watch again, or detailed descriptions of obscure video games I never played (or even heard of), we get to the conclusion. James Halliday’s avatar is waiting in the room which holds the last key – the key to his vast fortune. His avatar then lectures the winning player (come on, you think I was gonna tell you the winner!) and his advice is … (wait for it) … spend more time outside and less time playing video games!
WOW. The only reason I didn’t throw the book across the room is because I read it on my Kindle and I didn’t want to break it.