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Minireview: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is a tongue-in-cheek romp through a near-future dystopia and retro 80’s popculture. It’s the year 2044, and the world isn’t a pleasant place for those without vast amounts of money. The protagonist, Wade Watts, is a geek who lives with an obnoxious relative in a very unique form of a trailer park, and spends most of his time online. In this case, “online” means the OASIS, a sort of virtual reality Internet, with some AOL overtones. OASIS was created by one James Halliday, who became the richest man on the planet as a result, and who spawned the largest “Easter egg hunt” in human history after his death. He left clues scattered around the vast OASIS system, and declared that whoever found and followed all the clues would inherit his (vast) fortune. Naturally enough, a large percentage of the online population immediately went nuts and went to work on the puzzle. The problem? Halliday was a huge fan of 80s pop culture, and all of his clues related to this time period, largely forgotten until now.

When the book starts, all this has been going on for a long while. Huge corporations are trying to solve the puzzle, vast numbers of individuals are doing the same (many having organized themselves into various informal “clans”), and nobody has gotten anywhere. Until Wade, one of the seekers after Halliday’s treasure, finally manages to figure out the first clue. After that, all hell breaks loose (since the results of the “race” are public knowledge), with rival seekers and a huge, ruthless corporation all gunning for Wade.

This book is a huge amount of fun, especially if you grew up in the 80s and are familiar with the pop trivia stuff presented here. First-edition AD&D, Rush, Back to the Future, War Games… it’s all here. I think I recognized most of the references (and figured some of them out before the protagonist), but I’m sure I missed a few here and there. There’s also a geeky love story involved, and plenty of action (both virtual and real-world). It’s not the most realistic virtual reality -based story out there, but it doesn’t aim to be. It’s a celebration of 80s pop culture and an adventure tale, woven into one. Recommended.

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