Yes, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a YA novel, but why should kids have all the fun? Here we have a Steve-Jobs-type, James Donovan Halliday, and a Woz (Steve Wozniak) type, Ogden Morrow. We have an America that has disintegrated into poverty for most people. In fact the world is so gritty, gray and depressing that most people spend a good part of their days in the VR (virtual reality) world created by Halliday, a world called the OASIS.
We visit the OASIS with Parzival (the avatar of Wade Owen Watts) and we meet his best friend Aech (H). We also visit Wade in the real world where he lives in a mobile home parked by a crane in the “stacks” outside of Oklahoma City. He also has found an intact van buried in a car junkyard where he gets away from his Aunt Alice’s cranky boyfriend. He attends a VR high school in the OASIS.
Ernest Cline has enshrined in this novel the pop computer/movie culture of the 80’s. This is a nerd book, but one that can still be enjoyed by those of us who are not so nerdy. Parzival has memorized the movie War Games, for example, but I also confess to having watched the movie a few too many times.
When Halliday dies he creates a quest, that all in the OASIS can try to win, to determine who will be the heir to his billions and his creation. This quest is at the heart of this story. It involves challenges, deep knowledge of the computer games and movies of the 80’s, and takes us across much of the “landscape” of the OASIS. James Halliday was socially awkward, perhaps on the autism spectrum. His friend Og wins the woman Halliday was in love with. This drives a wedge between these two friends. There is a love interest for Parzival in the form of Art3mis and there are plenty of villains under an arch-villain Nolan Sorrento and his company the IOI.
This book can be devoured in one afternoon which is something I rarely experience these days. I found it thoroughly entertaining, full of “easter eggs” (read the book), and with a light running commentary on the ways that VR and AI (artificial intelligence) may affect the social aspects of societies if we are not careful. You can find critiques of this novel as a literary endeavor but I see no reason to be quite so adult and judgmental about it. I enjoyed the book enough to go see the movie (in RPX). The book, for me, was better than the movie.
If you want the in-depth nerd skinny you might enjoy this article: