The creator of a virtual online universe known as OASIS has passed away but not before he hid a prize so great everyone is looking for it. The first clue has stumped everyone and five years on no one is any closer, but that’s about to change.
Written by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is the story of a treasure hunt within a virtual universe but this isn’t just another ‘World of Warcraft’ or ‘Star Wars: Galaxies’. The story is set in the year 2044 and the Earth is a desolate place. We’ve continued to extract and use fossil fuels and global warming has changed the planet for the worse.
Despite the world coming together to try and survive the conditions, there are still wars, famine and countless homeless people. Huge corporate companies run almost everything and the world leaders only really exist as a reminder of the past with no real power over their countries.
In this world we meet Wade, a seventeen year old boy who has lost both his parents. He currently lives in a trailer park with his aunt, her boyfriend and the other families that are squashed into her trailer. Space is such a premium now that trailers are stacked on top of each other like crude skyscrapers held together with rudimentary framework to stop them from toppling over.
Wade like nearly everyone else on the planet spends their time in OASIS, a virtual universe that was created by a programmer called James Halliday. It only cost twenty five cents to join but once inside transactions were needed for your virtual everyday life and this is how Halliday’s company, Gregarious Simulation Systems, made their huge fortune.
In OASIS you are represented by an avatar and to change your appearance, buy new virtual clothes or even travel to different planets all cost real money and Wade can’t afford any of this. The fact he has the OASIS hardware to access this realm is because physical schools are a thing of the past. It was decided that virtual schooling was an easier option. Now all eligible school pupils are issued with free OASIS equipment allowing them to continue their education.
Then one day on the news channels it was announced that the programmer James Halliday, who had been a recluse for the last decade, had passed away. At that moment in time all OASIS users were sent a video email from Halliday explaining that he had hidden an Easter egg somewhere in the virtual world. Whoever could find it would be the new CEO of Gregarious Simulation Systems and would inherit his vast multibillion dollar fortune. The video message contained a short verse that acts as the clue to the first location of the first key. It is noted that three keys are required to access the final prize.
Wade, like everyone else starts to hunt the virtual realm and tries to decipher the first clue.
Now if there’s one thing about this novel you may have heard about it’s the pop culture references and let me tell you that the book is full of them. The character Halliday grew up in the eighties and many parts of the OASIS realm are recreations and shrines to this era. The puzzles and quests that Wade must complete to find the keys are steeped in references.
For example after finding the first key, Wade is transported into a virtual recreation of the film ‘Wargames’ where he must successfully replay the part played by Matthew Broderick, reciting every line correctly.
Whilst I found this entertaining, it does almost reach fever pitch at times as the pop culture referencing never stops during the story. At times it feels like some of it is there just for the sake of it. As another example with an almost throwaway line of exposition we are informed that Wade acquires a new form of transport in the form of a DeLorean which he won by completing a ‘Back to the Future’ quest on the planet Zemeckis (Robert Zemeckis directed the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy). It’s like a young boy writing a story and trying to cram in everything from his favourite films, comics, television show and even music from the time.
It’s not all set in the virtual world as there are sections of the story that take place in the real world and this really comes into its own near the end.
Despite my gripe with all the references, I still immensely enjoyed Wade’s adventure. I read the book in under a day as I wanted to see how it ended. I couldn’t put it down!
It was recently announced that Steven Spielberg has acquired the rights and will be turning this into a feature film. As I recall reading on twitter at the time, they better get a legal team in to start working on copyright issues. Will all the companies involved allow their products on screen? It would be a great shame if it wasn’t and I expect there will be compromises along the way.
Something else I want to mention is casting but I can’t really say anything as to ruin the book. If they go for the typical Hollywood route, I’ll be disappointed. I wish I could say more!
If you’re a child of the eighties or even of someone that lived through that era this will be a great read and it comes highly recommended.