Fangirl Fridays - Ready Player One

No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.
~ They Might Be Giants

I’ve never been interested in video games and Dungeons and Dragons quests, nor have I played any (except maybe Packman once). So I was a bit hesitant to pick up this book about video games and virtual realities, but then I read reviews that prompted me to take a bite: a dystopian future tale with characters who look like refugees from the movies Total Recall or The Fifth Element, and instead of worrying about it we have some fun. I found myself enjoying it very much.

I thought it would be a book for geeks, full of computer programming jargon and the likes, but I was wrong. I found myself enjoying the story, the ideas behind the story, the action, and especially the 1980s references, which are an integral part of the plot. I’ve learned quite a lot — and a bit more than is necessary for me — about video games, their makers, and their “inner secrets” (aka the technical background), but it didn’t diminish my fun one bit. I was delighted to find a different kind of story, not exactly my usual genre, that held my interest. And the delightful 80s references made it even better!

Let us plunge together into the game story.

It’s 2044, and Earth is in a dreary, gloomy warming, wars, famine, you name it. It’s overcrowded, there is violence everywhere, and jobs are almost impossible to find. That is why almost everyone flees into the OASIS, the world’s most popular online video game, created by James Halliday to escape from the harsh reality. With only a visor and haptic gloves, anyone can log in to a 3D fantasy realm containing 1000 worlds, where they can literally be anyone they want to be or build anything they want to build. And if not for the necessity of food and other bodily functions, they could live there around the clock, without ever leaving.

The story begins with a mischievous legacy, or riddle, that Halliday leaves behind when he dies. (Did I mention that he’s an eccentric billionaire?) His will is actually a video game made up of three parts. There are three keys/gates to be found, and each one leads the gamer to the next level in the hunt for the Easter egg, as the reward is called.

The first person to solve the game/riddle and find the hidden Easter egg will inherit James Halliday’s billions.
My entire generation would come to know every second of Halliday’s message by heart. Anorak’s invitation begins with the sound of trumpets, the opening of an old song called Dead Man’s Party by Oingo Boingo.

Which was featured in a few movies and TV series, most notably in the 1986 film Back to School. Some of you may remember fondly that movie’s comedian-actor (who never got enough respect!) Rodney Dangerfield, seen Dead Man’s Partying here. 😄😄

Our hero, 18-year-old Wade Watt, lives in his aunt’s trailer, inside the stucks, a trailer park of the future where dozens of trailers are stacked, one on top of the other, to a great height and held together by metal scaffolds. Both his parents are dead now and he has to fend for himself. Wade is socially awkward and has no real friends, so he literally lives in the OASIS. He is obsessed with James Halliday and his legacy. His passion (and Halliday’s) is video games — especially the 1980s games, together with the movies and music of that era — which are all part of Halliday’s legacy.
Over the five past years, I’d worked my way down the entire recommended gunter reading list. Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson. Richard K. Morgan. Stephen King. Orson Scott Card. Terry Pratchett. Terry Brooks. Bester, Bradbury Haldeman, Heinlein, Tolkien....

I devoured each of what Halliday referred to as “The Holy Trilogies”: Star Wars (original and prequel trilogies, in that order), Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Mad Max, Back to the Future, and Indiana Jones. (Halliday once said that he preferred to pretend the other Indiana Jones films, from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull onward, didn’t exist. I tend to agree.) I memorized lyrics. Silly lyrics, by bands with names like Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Pink Floyd.

Wade is a senior high school student, studying in one of the many schools on a virtual planet inside the OASIS. He (like every other person in the OASIS) designs his own avatar, called Parzival. He has a few friends inside the OASIS, one of whom is his secret crush, and they all know one another only through their avatars for most of the book.

Soon, the virtual HUNT becomes a war between individuals, groups, and one evil conglomerate, all hoping to be the first to solve Halliday’s riddle and get his millions.

The hunt is action packed and full video-game “wars”. Any hardcore gaming fan would be salivating through these pages. I, on the other hand, was intrigued at first by the idea of a global virtual game, feeling it might be entirely plausible in our not-so-faraway future. To my very limited knowledge of gaming, we don’t have that kind of game yet, but I could be wrong. I know there are online games with players on multiple continents, but the book game’s scale is even larger, enormous.

Then my curiosity was piqued as to how the story lines were going to play out. I found the world building and game building intriguing, engaging, and also amusing at times. But my greatest delight came from the abundance of 80s references. I love everything vintage, and here I had tons of it! But I’ll try to cool my enthusiasm and not obsess too much here, even though I felt like I found my own Easter eggs whenever I recognized an 80s reference! Most of these references are clues in the quest.
Then I knew where I was. Inside the first scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Another of Halliday’s favorite films, and perhaps the most-beloved geek film of all times.

Her newest blog post was titled “The John Hughes Blues”, and it was an in-depth treatise on her six favorite John Hughes teen movies, which she divided into two separate trilogies: The “Dorky Girl Fantasies” trilogy (Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful) and The “Dorky Boy Fantasies” trilogy (The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).

Pretty in Pink (Those were the days 😍)

My nostalgic nature connected also to the wide collection of music mention in here, I heard the songs in my head while reading, such a great list, though I admit there were songs I didn’t recognize. Here are a few of the songs and performers:

I could go on and on...I hope you feel me.
I was watching a collection of vintage ’80s cereal commercials when I paused to wonder why cereal manufacturers no longer included toy prizes inside every box.
I made a big entrance when I arrived in my flying DeLorean, which I obtained by completing a Back to the Future quest on planet Zemeckis.

Just 2 more facts and 1 apology before the end:
  • Most of the book trivia is about video games, because they are the backbone of the story. I’ve written very little about them because I don’t know enough to comment intelligently. My sincere apologies to the author and all the gamers. If you are into gaming, you’ll love that aspect of this book.
  • Author Ernest Cline owns a DeLorean car (a brand made famous by its appearance in the 80s movie Back to the Future). Last summer, he announced a contest to give away a DeLorean car to the first reader who found an Easter egg hidden inside the book. There was one lucky winner! Who, unfortunately, wasn’t me. George R.R. Martin once borrowed Cline’s DeLorean.

E. Cline with George R. R. Martin and the Delorean

Ready Player One is being adapted into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg and is scheduled to premier in 2018. I have high hopes for Mr. Spielberg’s movie — I hope he will not disappoint me. Here is the movie trailer:

Does this story sound intriguing to you, too? It’s set in the near future, and I feel it is quite possible that something similar might happen in real life, but I hope I’m wrong. This technology can be a means for good, for evil, or for both, depending on how we decide to use it. I’m hoping for a better future in our world than the one in this book.

The story is large in scope and highly entertaining, but despite all the virtual technology, it all comes down to the people and love at the end. Like any good fantasy or science-fiction book, it is very relevant to real life. And anyone who wants to know why their teenagers prefer the world of computer games to the world of reality might want to read this book.

This Wench rates Ready Player One...


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