Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

readyplayerone

Another book I managed to read before the movie is released in…2018. Yeah, I definitely got a better head start unlike The Martian. Spielberg is directing so the film adaptation may be fantastic like Jurassic Park or a humongous dud like this Summer’s The BFG. The licensing rights will be a major part of the budget.

Ready is set in 2040s and let me tell you, the near future sucks!

  • Global Warming/Climate Change is taking its toll on the world.
  • The Great Recession never ended.
  • Occasional pandemics wipe out large swaths of the population.
  • The gap between the poor and the One Percent is even larger, the Middle Class has dwindled to a sliver.

Our hero Wade, who narrates the story, lives in one of the numerous poor-people ghettos called The Stacks—trailers and RVs stacked upon each other with scaffolding going as high as 20 stories. Wade’s home being on the outskirts of Oklahoma City seems more like a prediction in my opinion. It also reminds me of Americathon where most people live in their cars because we loved them too much.

Wade has it pretty rough. His parents died, forcing him to live in The Stacks with an aunt that only has him around to get his food-stamps allocation. The only joy in Wade’s life is escape via an online universe called OASIS. OASIS resembles Second Life if it were successful. It’s the 2040s so OASIS is fully immersive: you wear VR goggles which “write” on your retinas and gloves for the haptic elements. For those who can afford a more “realistic” experience own bodysuits and operate in a sphere or on a treadmill for their movement. OASIS is all encompassing. It has gaming elements: touches of World of Warcraft and Star Wars: the Old Republic. It’s social, people meet in virtual rooms or buildings. Lastly, it’s educational, Wade attends high school through OASIS.

How is this all possible? Today you have to pay for Internet access, streaming services and many games eventually put their foot down when you reach a time limit of a month or a power level. OASIS could run thousands of dollars a month! Well, founders James Halliday and Ogden Morrow made billions with all their previous ventures (mostly games) so they chose to make OASIS free as their gift to the world. You can pay money or earn virtual coins to acquire weapons, transportation, real estate, armor, etc. A free account guarantees attendance at one of the thousands of schools on the planet Ludus.

In 2041, James Halliday dies but leaves an elaborately detailed will stating that the first person to find the three keys to his Easter egg hidden in the OASIS will inherit his fortune worth billions. More importantly, the winner gains a controlling stake in OASIS. Ogden had a falling out with James a couple decades earlier, making the former partner ineligible. He has his own wealth anyway and cannot (or will not?) provide any hints about the man he was best friends with since grade school.

The will’s release results in a global Willy Wonka-golden ticket frenzy. People looking for the Easter Egg are nicknamed Gunters. Much like WoW and other MMORPGs, guilds are formed, people write blogs about their searches, the Media goes nuts and there’s a whole industry surrounding Halliday’s entire life, anything to get a clue.

A year passes and no one finds the first key. Then another, and another, and another.

General interest, especially the media’s, dies down. By 2044, the Easter Egg is considered either a hoax or a prank the reclusive Halliday left behind.

However, Wade is a dedicated Gunter. He has dedicated all his spare time analyzing everything about Halliday. He watches movies and TV shows from the Eighties ad nauseum. Listens to Eighties music. Masters Eighties video games. Reads the comics and Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels an Eighties kid/teen would’ve read. Learns about D&D and other RPGs Halliday and Ogden played as kids. Wade isn’t alone. His “best friend” Aech (pronounced like the letter H) shares this passion so they discuss the content, have friendly competitions and mainly hang out. There are obviously millions of other Gunters, but Wade pays more attention to this woman named Art3mis who writes a blog he enjoys.

The Gunters aren’t alone. A corporation called Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the dominant ISP in this dystopia, has an entire division of employees hunting for the egg too. Everyone knows that if IOI gets their hooks into the OASIS, it’s over for the world because they’ll start charging, sanitizing the content (really, licensing and putting in ads)…in short, the virtual universe will have toll roads. The only advantage Gunters have is IOI employees are restricted to one particular avatar with a ID numbers beginning with six, hence they’re called Sixers or Suxors by the less civil.

Of course our hero Wade has a breakthrough in finding the Egg or there wouldn’t be a novel. How he figures out the first clue was sadly torn from the pages of my freshman year in high school…taking Latin and loving to play D&D. And my parents thought nothing good would come of the latter.

Overall, Ready was a fantastic book. Definitely one I couldn’t put down. Not due to the subject matter; a cornucopia of Eighties stuff from every possible angle. Cline’s writing keeps the story’s pace brisk without the encyclopedic coverage bogging it down into lists or explanations for anyone under 40. Wade’s interaction in the OASIS is plausible too. Unlike The Matrix, there are worlds or sectors where the rules change for all participants. Cline’s description of how dreary the real world has become makes you want to get back into the OASIAS too. Personally I think Earth is doomed if America’s current technology center is Columbus, OH. I’m not surprised the evil corporation IOI is there.

As for it being an Eighties love letter. Cline dug even deeper and didn’t restrict himself to this decade. The Eighties were Halliday’s primary childhood/teen memories—he was born in 1972. There’s plenty of Seventies and Nineties references to act as bookends. Cline just makes Halliday the consummate Eighties era savant with gamer touches, namely his crappy taste in music. I could never get into Rush’s 2112 or any of their long, drawn-out junk about trees, caves and Ayn Rand. There were some nights I swear Cline either used a time machine to go back to spy on my childhood whenever there were references to Starblazers, Ultraman, Johnny Sokko and The Space Giants.

I highly recommend Ready Player One. It’s an entertaining read. One blurb described it more succinctly…”Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” Don’t let all the cultural reference schtick scare you. Cline’s decision to go with the legendary decade is only logical. The Eighties were a watershed when numerous technologies converged to build the foundation of what we have today: video games, computer interactions, cable television, film distribution, music genres (MTV’s influence namely) and roleplaying games which inspired scores of computer programmers. Ready is also a good companion to Back To Our Future by David Sirota.

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