I used to read. I mean, not avidly, but I used to enjoy cracking open a new(ish) book and letting the words within make sweet love to my imagination and give birth to creative stories in my brain. Ok, so try to imagine a less creepy version of that sentence.
Reading, like most forms of entertainment, has always been about escapism for me. Sure, the occasional biography or fact-based book is all well and good, but I want something that can transport me to another time and/or place to break up the monotony of the 2 hour commute I face each and every single work day.
Books were perfect for that, but then one day I bought an iPad, and later signed up for Netflix and suddenly I had an embarrassment of riches in the entertainment department. Sadly for the novel I was reading at the time, technology won that day, and it is only recently that I have rediscovered the reading bug.
The irony is that the book which was disrupted last year was Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, a story set in a dystopian future where technology has advanced to the point that almost every aspect of life is done via a virtual reality software programme called OASIS. Geddit? I was distracted by the very thing that I was reading about. Weird, right?
Anyway, the story is told through the eyes of Wade Watts (user name Parzival), a teenage orphan who lives with his aunt in “The Stacks”, essentially piled up motor homes designed to assist with over populated areas. We join Wade five years after the death of James Halliday, multi-billionaire and creator of OASIS, whose Last Will announced that his fortune and the rights to the programme will be inherited by whomever shall find the Easter Egg he left within the software, leaving a series of riddles and challenges behind to help those who wish to join the hunt.
As you can imagine, this create a media frenzy, with every man, woman and child hunting for the Egg. After five years with no sign of anybody getting even close to solving the first riddle, interest in The Hunt has naturally faded a little, but there are still hardcore users, called gunters, who still believe they could be the one to take home the prize.
Wade is one such gunter, who not only uses OASIS daily as a way to forget about his troubled home life, but also views The Egg as his salvation, meaning he can finally leave behind his troubled surroundings and make something of himself.
He commits serious time and energy into researching Halliday’s life, starting with his autobiography and then proceeding to watch every film, listen to every album, read every book and play every game referenced by him, in a bid to understand the man so that it might help with solving the riddles.
Along the way, we meet Wade’s best friend Aech, and his crush Art3mis, plus his tenuous allies Shoto and Daito. Although they all enjoy each other’s company, and are friends to one another, the fact that only person can find The Egg means that there is always some tension bubbling underneath.
Standing in their way is the multi-national corporation Innovative Online Industries, who want to win the competition and make money off of OASIS, which would not be in keeping with James Halliday’s vision that it should be open to all. Leading IOI is Nolan Sorrento, a shady operative who will stop at nothing to get what he, and the company, want.
Ready Player One is described as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix” and I don’t think I could put it any better. Cline whimsically blends together futuristic technology with references to 1980s pop culture, which makes for a fascinating and unique contrast, and taps into two areas I have a lot of time for.
The plot is simple enough, and is similar in many ways to other stories concerning chosen ones and treasure hunts, but given the above contrasting references, it is perhaps this familiarity of story that helps RP1 be the enjoyable book it is.
Cline’s writing style may not push boundaries, and could be conceived as simplistic, however with a book that is dense with pop culture, combined with a well crafted story line, this helps draw the reader into his world.
If I could be critical, it is merely that there doesn’t seem to be much character development, with all the main players being either good or bad throughout, with not even a hint of grey area, whilst Wade for the large part seems to solve some of the puzzles and complete games a little too easily for my liking, especially considering he has only just turned 18 when we see him. As such, there could be a little more depth to both the characters and their achievemnts, however this would in turn dilute the fun factor of the book.
Other than that, RP1 is a real page turner, and perfect for any geek who is looking for a summer read. Apologies we are now at the end of summer, but that shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment. Ernest Cline may not be a household name yet, but if his follow-up, Armada, is anywhere near as good, look for this guy to become one of the hottest authors around.