You don't have to be a geek to love Ready Player One. Now, to be absolutely honest, it sure doesn't hurt. It would also be very, very helpful to have been a 14 year-old in 1975 so that you would have absorbed all of the '80s pop culture that forms the very bedrock of Ready Player One. Did you own a Commodore 64 or a TRS-80 or the original Apple II (and if you owned the Apple I - OMG!). I mean, do you (or did you) own all the Duran Duran albums? Was Blade Runner one of your favorite movies? Like John Hughes films? Dig Devo?
You get the picture. In a future not so much removed from our own time, Wade Watts lives in squalor in a 3 dimensional trailer park on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. It is dismal, it is bleak, it is Darwinian, and Wade's future -- as an overweight, not so attractive, and unengaged student in a world where employment is a rarity, is - as the saying goes - not too bright.
Wade spends his time online - in a virtual world -- that's where school is (cuts down on bullying, cuts down on disruptive students), that's where his friends are (the few - like 2 that exist), that'ss where he gets his entertainment and that's what he really knows.
Like any true geek, he has wrapped himself in a coccon of pop culture - but it is the pop culture of the past - old Atari games, pinball, old books, old movies, old music -- with the pinnacle of culture being the 1980s (believe it....the '80s). The OASIS is this totally consuming virtual world and its creator, James Halliday, was the recognized king of '80s pop culture and a world class programmer -- and his company, OASIS becomes the most valuable company on the planet. Wade and his colleagues are obsessive with regard to Halliday (who grew up in the 1980s and now the fascination becomes clear) - his motives, his work, his life, his likes, and dislikes.
When building the OASIS, Halliday embedded a contest. Having died an untimely death, his will leaves all of his assets, including the total ownership of the OASIS, to the winner of the contest. Its an "Easter Egg" hunt of the highest dimension and only the smartest, savvyest, and thoroughly versed 80s culture geek can even begin to have a chance to win.
But, after an initial flurry of activity just after Halliday's death, no real progress has been made. Wade and his few equally obsessive friends have not given up - and then Wade stumbles upon the solution to the first piece of the puzzle and for the first time in years, the game is afoot once again.
But success brings out real competitors -- other obsessives yes, but also the combined forces of the second biggest virtual company who hankers after OASIS as the prize of all prizes and for whom nothing is more valuable. Wade's initial success spawns a world-wide frenzy - but also makes him a target of the Corporate Powers (yes, in capitals) who will stop at nothing to ensure their victory.
Cline has really done a remarkable job here -- the culture references are non-stop (and I only really got about 60% of them -- I guess I wasn't paying as much attention in the 80s as I could have), the action is well written and Wade and his virtual friends (and his virtual romance, and bromance) are interesting people. The addition of characters from Japan lets Cline introduce the Japanese obsessive nostalgia culture into the story and astute readers will get more than a simple whiff of William Gibson.
I listened to this on audiobook, with Wil Wheaton as the narrator. Wheaton was more than just very good and professional....I have listed to a few books narrated by him and he is terrific. Even more fun was knowing he was narrated prose talking about himself as the oldest living survivor of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In conclusion, this is wildly original stuff. Sure, if computer games, video games, cult movies, and virtual reality leave you cold, you will not get started here. But you will be missing a terrific story, great action, truly original ideas, and a wild ride. I am a true sucker for the interesting idea - I put Cline in the category of William Gibson, Charles Stross, Ben Aaronovitch, Richard K Morgan, and Richard Dooling when it comes to unique thinking with interesting twists.
I wish Cline could pull off a second story in the same world.