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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

cover of 'Ready Player One'

In a dismal future, with an economy and environment in shambles, people live in "stacks" - vertical scaffolding of trailer parks - or are homeless, and they spend all their time in the virtual world of OASIS. When the inventor of OASIS, James Halliday, dies with no heirs, he releases a video explaining he has hidden an "easter egg" challenge somewhere within OASIS, and the first player to find the three keys and complete the three gates will inherit his wealth and majority stake in the company. This world reminded me somewhat of the movie "The Matrix," but in this case everyone chooses to take the blue pill because reality is so terrible and the many worlds and galaxies of OASIS are so enticing. The story is told from the perspective of Wade Watts, aka Parzival (the name of his OASIS avatar, referencing the grail quest) or "Z" to his friends, the person who found the first key.

The egg hunt is an elaborate traesure hunt based on Halliday's love of old video games and pop-culture movies and TV from the '80s. So series egg hunters (or "gunters" as they are called, which sounds silly and far-fetched except for the fact that we have words like "blog") study every game, movie and TV show that Halliday loved, wrote about, or owned.

In addition to individual gunters like Wade and his friends, there are the sinister bad guys - the company IOI is putting vast resources into the competition so that they can urn the OASIS and charge money for its use (currently there is no charge for using the OASIS, but there are teleportation fees for moving quickly between worlds or sectors). They are portrayed as being very clearly evil, and they will go to terrible lengths (even illegal ones) to make progress on the hunt or take out their competition.

It's a bit strange to think that in a world with limited power and resources, everyone is effectively online all the time. The way money and resources work in OASIS seems a bit like how money and resources work now with World of Warcraft, except on a massively larger scale. When Wade becomes the first player to find the first gate, his avatar Parzival becomes famous-- and he's offered endorsement deals that allow him to pay for a better living situation and OASIS gear in the real world. As the story goes on, we also see the downsides of this kind of lifestyle more clearly-- the addiction; the solitary and lonely existence staying inside a single-room efficiency apartment, completely unknown to any neighbors, all the while being a rock-star famous level 99 character in OASIS.

Shortly after clearing the first gate, Wade finds himself befriending and making allies with the rest of the "High Five" - the first five on the scoreboard for Halliday's great game. These are people who only ever know each other virtually (and, of course, everybody is hiding something), and while they are allied against other groups (especially IOI), they are also competitors because each of them wants to win the game on their own.

This is a fun book, with lots of interesting ideas and references; I feel like I am not quite in the target-audience for this book, since I am not such an old-school gamer to be familiar with things like Joust or Galaga. It took me a little while to get drawn into the book, I think maybe because Wade doesn't seem to be such an honorable or likable character at first. But the latter half of the book went very quickly-- the stakes are higher, there is more of a race, and you can't wait to see what Parzival's crazy plan is, or if it will work.

Title:Ready Player One
Author:Ernest Cline
Date published:2011
Genre:Science Fiction
Number of pages:384 pages
Notes:recommended by Melanie; read a library ebook


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