I just read the most fun book ever written for children of the 80s. No, it's not the greatest story ever told, nor does it have the best characters ever plastered on the page, but my GOD did I have fun reading it (and by reading it I mean "listening to the audio book [as read by TV's Wil Weaton] of it while driving to and from work and while walking the pooch.").
That book is (SURPRISE!) the novel that I'm here to review, Ready Player One. It is filled to the gills with references and plot twists based on 1980s movies, video games, music, and other pieces of pop cultural, one after the other, some just mentioned in passing, while others figure quite heavily into the plot. It is my dream novel, and my only disappointment with it is that I didn't come up with the idea first. I really and truly love this fucking book!
"So, Ready Player One is all about the 80s... That sounds duuuuuuuuuuuuumb," you state like that one-extra chromosomed individual who served me at Taco Bell and judged me for ordering a Doritos Los Taco at lunch today (seriously, fuck YOU, pal! I only ordered that shitty taco, you still fucking work at that shitty restaurant!). It may sound dumb when that's all that I've given you so far, yes, but picture this: It's the mid 2040s, the world has kind of turned into a shit-hole due to mankind using up a lot of the planet's nonrenewable resources, and the only real escape for the billions of people hanging around and just waiting to die is the gigantic, thousands of worlds-large Massively Multiplayered Online gaming sensation, the O.A.S.I.S.
While the super high-definitioned OASIS started out as just a place to play a few fully immersive (by way of glasses that laser the virtual world directly onto your retinas, and special gloves that can interact with the environment), it quickly evolved into a universe where one could live inside one's favorite movie, start up a chat room with your friends in whatever sweet-ass environment you could think up, or even go to school. As a matter of fact, there's one entire planet in the OASIS that's filled with nothing but virtual schools for millions of kids who either can't make it to a real classroom (transportation is muy expensivo in the future due to the using up of most of the world's energy resources before the Shizuma Drive was invented), or for losers who just got fed up with real life bullying and wanted to attend classes without fear of wedgies or swirlies.
Our main character, one Wade Watts (aka Parzival to his online friends... if he had any), is one of those losers who was tired of real world kids picking on him, so he enrolled in high school in the OASIS. Most of Wade's free time is spent in the OASIS as a gunter. "Gunter" is just short for "egg hunter." As in Easter eggs. As in an eccentric multi-billionaire named James Halliday (who helped to create the OASIS) died, and let it be known in his very public will that he had left a series of riddles and hidden games (i.e. "Easter eggs") scattered throughout his online creation that users could use in order to solve them. The first person to figure out all these clues and beat all these secret games in the OASIS would win Halliday's enormous life savings and controlling stock of his megacorporation that he spent his life building up. This billionaire said all this in his crazy video will (with production values rivaling that of a big budgeted Hollywood film), and he hinted that detailed knowledge of his life and all things 1980s (the decade during which he spent his most formidable teenage years) would be considered mandatory in order to even have the slightest chance of winning the uber-stash cash prize.
So, within a few months of this OASIS-building weirdo dying, the 80s came back in style. Songs were remade by contemporary artists, kids started dressing like John Hughes characters, and everybody started watching and memorizing old movies and mastering classic coin-op video games like Pacman, Galaga, and Smash TV. Just like Halliday wanted. Hell, just like I want right now! Oh how I miss that decade of old. The best games, movies, TV shows, and music were all from that Reagan-era of awesomeness! Yeah, we still thought the commies would nuke us at any moment, but goddammit we had GnR's Appetite for Destruction and Raiders of the Lost Ark to make up for that!
Anyway, Wade Watts — that dweeby little orphan living in a shitty trailer park with his bitchy aunt and 15 other poor people — throws himself completely into the hunt for Halliday's Easter egg because it's the only thing that keeps him going in his otherwise shitty life. He's only got one friend in the world, and it's not even somebody he's met outside of the OASIS. H, the friend in question, won't even tell Wade, or should I say Parzival, anything about his real life. All the two of them do all day is play ancient video games, recite classic movie lines, and read old comic books and Halliday's publicly-released journal looking for clues to the whereabouts to the dead-man's hidden treasure. Their tenacity and perseverance is actually quite impressive, if not horrifically sad at the same time.
By the time we join Wade in his life, the hunt has been going on for about 5 years, and no gunter has even found the first of three hidden keys needed to unlock 3 hidden gates somewhere within the OASIS. Despite this lack of productivity, and despite the normals of the world all losing interest in the hunt, dedicated gunters and evil corporations (that have legions of employees searching for the keys full time) are still on the prowl. Then, one day, out of the very fucking blue, poor little Parzival/Wade gets a "Holy shit, EUREKA" moment, and unlocks the very first clue that had been holding the world's hunters up for so long. Then the Halliday hysteria kicks back into overdrive as everyone realizes that the game is real and not a silly hoax perpetrated by a dying man, and the thrill of the egg hunt is back on like Donkey Kong!
That's all I'll tell you about the plot of this thing. Yes, it's basically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory merged with The Matrix, but none of it makes you groan or roll your eyes in the least. I honestly only ever wanted to BE THERE playing the Easter egg hunt myself! The world that Earnest Cline created is absolutely fucking amazing! Almost every other sentence in this entire book is some sort of 80s pop culture reference. What blew my mind is that I caught probably 95% of everything he throws at the reader. I so totally would be a gunter if I lived in that world.
Pretty much every culturally significant TV show (from Silver Spoons to Family Ties), video game (from Adventure to Black fucking Tiger), and movie (from Buckaroo Banzai to Highlander) is either mentioned in passing, or a major part of figuring out where a key or a gate is hidden. And because of the nature of the story, none of these references felt like they were tacked on just to have a "Hey, remember THIS movie?" moment. Everything is only brought up because Wade/Parzival is trying to use his entire pool of knowledge of a long-dead decade to try and decipher cryptic codes and clues in order to beat millions of other players to the mightiest of prizes. Oh, and the references aren't regulated solely to the 1980s. There's lots of talk about 1970s Japanese robots (from Mazinger Z to the original Gundam), Schoolhouse Rock, Firefly, Doctor Who, Monty Python, and the original DnD tabletop game. And Jesus Christ! Cline even pulls the Japanese Spider-Man TV series out of his hat for an amazing sequence featuring the arachnid's personal mech!
Ready Player One was a nerdy wet dream come true for me. If you have just a passing interest in classic geek memorabilia from the greatest decade that ever was or will be, you need to read it. If you grew up in or around the 80s and just want to relive a little rose-tinted nostalgia for about 400 pages, you need to read it. If you just like old fashioned good versus evil battles for the fate of humanity (or in this case the entire internet as it is known), you need to read this book. It's just fun. Like I said, it's no Shakespeare, but it will entertain the fuck out of your mind for a little while and make you forget about how shitty your real life is.
My only question about the whole book is this: Who controls which powerups are available to the OASIS as a whole? Couldn't the people who program all these thousands of worlds simply come up with an item (say like a gun that can shoot through any armor and never needs reloading or recharging) and then make it so that anybody who comes to that planet gets one for free? In the OASIS, all the weapons, ships, and armor bought or won on any one world can be used on any other (unless it's a tech item on a magic world, or vice versa), and there are some pretty impressive winnable bits of awesomeness to be found in some hidden quests (like an actual Ultra Man capsule that can turn the user into the giant red and silver man himself for 3 full fucking minutes!)... What's to stop one asshole from flooding the market with some of this stuff? I'm nitpicking right now, and I bet Cline has a good explanation for how that shit works in his world, but it is never really explained in the actual text. Oh well.
I wasn't surprised to find out that Ready Player One has already been optioned for a movie, but there is no way in fucking HELL a real motion picture would ever do it justice (what with the hundreds, if not THOUSANDS of 80s movies, TV series, comics, and video games that play a fun — if not pretty damn important — part of the main plot). The licensing to get all these names and likenesses would be in-fucking-sane... but if they replace anything with something that the movie studio has the rights to, or simply try to make up their own fake 80s reference to a TV show that doesn't really exist, then that defeats the entire point of what the book was about. And if movie Parzival does not have an OASIS butler who is a recreation of Max Headroom, then I don't want to watch it.
Whoa... Okay, so did like the Rossman and I really grow up in the same decade? I lived through the 80s at the same point in my life as he did, but I only got about 1/100th of all the references this book kept cramming down my gullet. Yeah, it was a good read, I'll give it that, but Jesus! It's like this author just googled the shit out of "80s TV," "80s movies," and "80s games" and then just Mad Libs'd them all together to make people say "Ohmygerd! He referenced that show I used to watch! Wow!" It's like Family Guy humor, but in book form. Nah, it was okay, but you don't need to read it if you've already lived through that decade. Just wait for the movie. It'll condense it all down into 2 hours and save you some time.
Oh my sweet Jesus! I have simply GOT to get some super geek to invent this OASIS shit! This optical and other sensory input limitless universe will be 1,000Xs more addictive than crack and espresso combined! Imagine just how lazy mankind as a whole will become if they never have to get out of their bed to shower, go outside, or socialize, and still be able to look like a supermodel in the eyes of everyone else in the world! It'll be like Christmas for me! So many deadly sins all wrapped up into one great package