Thursday, 27 October 2016

'Ready Player One', by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author(s): Ernest Cline
Release Date: 5th April 2012
Publisher: Arrow Books
Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopia
Source: Audible (Audiobook)

Synopsis:
It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

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As someone that was raised on video games and experienced a lot of 80's culture throughout their childhood, this book feels like it was brought straight from Ernest Cline's brain and made to measure specifically for me. I am absolutely in love and this has won itself a spot on my all time favorite books list!

Set in a future that is still well within our grasp, the world where Wade Watts lives is one that we are probably walking towards with baby steps. Pollution, over population, poverty... There is nothing to convince Wade to stay in the real world instead of login into the Oasis, the virtual reality program that has been a part of his life since birth. With a father he's never known and a mother that resorted to being an escort in the Oasis until she passed away, all of Wade's education and entertainment was found in this massive parallel world online. It is then not at all surprising that Wade becomes completely obsessed with the egg hunt that will award the winner ownership of the Oasis, so he can avoid it falling into the hands of a massive corporation that will take away the only home he's ever known.

Needless to say, I was hooked in this story from the very first moment. Wade is so immediately relatable it's not even funny, and his personality so surprisingly layered that I found myself questioning if he was actually a fictional character. I identified with Wade in a lot of aspects, and I don't think I've rooted for a character to succeed so hard in my entire life!

There is a sizeable portion at the beginning of the book that is quite heavy in world building and exposition, as both these worlds are brought to life before our eyes, but honestly I could have sat through countless more books of just Wade explaining even all the bland aspects of Earth and its history. His voice is filled with humor, and even though some sections might come through as offensive to some (especially one where he explains his disbelief regarding religion), I saw in Wade almost a twin, both in behavior and in mind.

The egg hunt itself takes its time to warm up, but once it does it never stops scalding. With audiobooks, I usually only pick them up at work or while out and about, but with this one (which I thoroughly recommend, as it is brilliantly voiced by Wil Wheaton!) I just could not pull myself away from it, and it was the only case where I would just sit around (and sometimes look at the ceiling for hours) while I followed Wade on his near impossible quest.

The clues are smartly hidden throughout the vast Oasis, and the hunters quickly realized that, to find them, they would have to know James Halliday (its creator) almost better than he knew himself, which is our connection to all the video games, films, and overall 80's/90's culture references in this book. It is every nerd's dream, and even though some of the references where unknown to me, whenever I did know one I was thrown from the future back to that time of arcades and cheesy romance flicks. Wade is a surprising expert in all things James Halliday, and putting together the similarities between these two people that (unfortunately) never met was just as entertaining as trying to come up with the location of all the eggs.

While Wade is quite the overpowering presence in the book, its supporting cast are definitely not a let down. Seeing Wade's friendships grow within the Oasis with people from all corners of the world when they have never met in person and, in cases, don't even know each others real names is something that I am sure everyone from this generation will relate deeply with. The complete disregard of physical appearance or gender in these bonds is something that I wish I could see replicated in so much more fiction.

I tend to be quite attentive and on the look out for red herrings while reading, but this book managed to catch me by surprise with a couple of its plot twists. This is an ingeniously brought together novel, with what I assume are years and years of research crammed within its pages, and it is one of those cases where I wish I could delete it from my memory just to have the pleasure of experiencing it for the very first time again!

Almost 'Inception'-ish in nature, as Wade spends most of the book physically strapped to a chair, it was immeasurably refreshing to read a novel with a hero that is brave, adventurous, smart, and on a quest to save the world... Within his own mind. Thoroughly recommend!


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