Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Published by Crown Publishers on 2011
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Hard Science Fiction, General
Length: 15 hrs. 46 mins.
Also by this author: Armada
At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed. It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them. For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. A world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize. Are you ready?
I first found out about this book appropriately enough at Comic-Con. My husband attended the Speculative Fiction panel that included author Ernest Cline, and later told me about the book. Once I found out it was a dystopian that included 80s references galore I knew I had to read it. I had a blast listening to the audiobook of Ready Player One and loved getting lost in all the pop culture references from some of my favorite movies, music, games and TV shows of the 80s.
Ready Player One is set in a bleak future America in 2044 where real life has gotten so bad that most people spend all their time in the preferable virtual world of the OASIS. The 80s obsessed and eccentric billionaire James Halliday created this virtual reality and does not charge a service fee. When he dies, his will announces a worldwide contest to find the hidden Easter egg, and the winner will inherit the OASIS and his wealthy estate. The contestants must solve the clues that reference Halliday’s favorite games, movies, TV shows and music to find 3 keys to open the gates to fame and fortune. When years go by and no one gets close to solving the first puzzle, it’s beginning to look like a hopeless exercise.
Wade Watts, better known by his avatar name of Parzival, has obsessively been studying Halliday’s favorite pop culture icons to try to win the contest, and best the evil corporation that seeks to win at any cost. Wade is an orphan who lives in a stacked trailer park, and doesn’t have the online currency of his peers to roam the planets in search of clues. But, Wade is still the first to make some headway in the contest, although he soon has some company on the scoreboard.
The author does a good job with the world building and I had a good sense of the issues that led to this dystopian state. It is funny to imagine these teens of 2044 latching on to 80s pop culture in the hopes of gaining a brighter and richer future.
Beyond the dystopian elements, the book really shines with its nod to and obvious affection for the 80s. I could not include every reference found in the book, but suffice to say there are a ton of 80s references, from War Games to Heathers, Family Ties, Duran Duran, and Pac Man, Galaga, and more. It lost me a little bit with the Dungeons & Dragons and Monty Python, but for the most part the references were a fun trip down memory lane.
The book also touches on other themes that are relevant in today’s world, such as in person versus online relationships. The character Wade strikes up some friendships in the book via his Parzival avatar and it is interesting to see how the relationships develop. It is also interesting to see how the contestants plan to spend their potential fortune, and speculate what the world would be like if the evil corporate leader Sorrento won.
Wil Wheaton reads the audiobook, and I can’t imagine a more perfect choice. His enthusiasm and knowledge of the material shines through and his voice is just right for Wade. He even gets to name-check himself in the book which is hilarious. I got through this over 15-hour audiobook in just a few days, as I was addicted to the story and listened to it as often as I could. I can’t recommend the audiobook highly enough.
I think this entertaining and fun read will appeal to a wide audience, not just those with firsthand knowledge of the 80s. I’m ready for the movie and the soundtrack!
- You want to accept Anorak’s Invitation. Trust me. (wilwheaton.typepad.com)
- Read the first two chapters of Ernest Cline’s dystopian gamer novel, Ready Player One [Book Excerpt] (io9.com)
- Speculative fiction, and the art of predicting the future (boingboing.net)
- Wil Wheaton Reads READY PLAYER ONE Audiobook [Video] (geeksaresexy.net)