If you’d like to hear what I thought of the movie, which I saw way before I read this book, you can click here. The short version is I over time just fell in love with it. So much so I was counting down the days till I’d be able to read the supposedly quite different original book. And maybe read Ready Player Two and Armada. I’ve heard those two aren’t as beloved, so I guess I should get myself prepared. But I started out with Ernest Cline’s first and most beloved project, and even though I knew the general story quite well at this point, it was still a knockout.
When Wade Watts of Columbus, Ohio was 13 years old, James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS and CEO of the biggest company in the world, Gregarious Games, made so because of his creation, died. He left behind a virtual reality world where not only can you do anything and be anyone, but a brand new economy has been built within it. These days, reality is horrible. So many people are in poverty and the tippy-looking stacks of old trailer homes came from an idea someone had when more and more people arrived from disaster areas due to climate change and there wasn’t enough room on the ground, but more room in the sky. So a way to escape the reality is, said OASIS, an online virtual world where you can do anything and be anyone. Halliday also left behind a message saying 240 billion dollars and authority over his world would be given to the first person to get to what is known in the business as an Easter Egg. To find it, you had to get three keys and these keys were hidden, one by one, with riddles and a well-known knowledge of what Halliday liked and stood for to let people try to guess.
In five years, no one has gotten even one key. For the first little while this competition was all the rage. Now the last people who are trying are the gunters, known as egg hunters. Among the gunters is a group called the Sixers, known because their avatars are always the same warrior guard, differentiated only by their six-digit ID given to them by IOI (Innovative Online Industries), who want to try to win the contest to take over the Oasis with advertisements and pricey fees for being able to enter the world. Wade decided long ago he was going to take this contest seriously and he became a true Halliday scholar as he was attending a VR school and avoiding his Aunt Alice who is willing to sell off his laptops to pay rent if she ever found out about them. He goes by Parzival, and no one, not even his best friend Aech, knows who he is in real life, and vice versa. One day Wade comes to a realization while sleeping in class, and when he’s the first one to get the first key, he’s going to turn into a celebrity, role model, and most importantly, IOI fugitive.
For the rest of this review, I’ll try to ignore my comparing to the A+ Spielberg adaptation, but I’ll say this before the end of this sentence so as to not break my own rule; whether or not the movie had this, I would’ve made the High Five (the five that end up to the egg first, four behind Parzival) meet up in real life a lot sooner than Cline does here. He seemed to want to go for a finale that could be cathartic, but more face-to-face interaction would’ve been more satisfactory. But other than that occasionally dragging it down, and a bit of a slow beginning that might turn off some readers not fully committed to going into this story, I was never bored, and the amount of thrills that came from the action, drama, and even shoutouts to stuff I 95% of the time never even heard of, were breathtaking. It’s hard and easy to believe at the same time this is Cline’s debut. It’s both a naturally epic read and has a true video-game-nerd spirit.
Okay, maybe there’s a little bit more criticism to go around. After Wade’s home is deliberately destroyed by IOI, with his aunt killed, and them knowing his real world name and he manages to escape to an apartment that didn’t have IOI’s satellites, I think I’d be more traumatized than he is. It’s true he didn’t love his aunt Alice much but there could’ve been more emotion, and I feel Wade still didn’t care enough about the possibility of Nolan Sorrento getting the egg. Then again on that last part, the race to the egg is more elongated than the movie. It not only took five years before the first key was found, but who’s to say the next few will be instantaneous either? I guess perhaps Wade began losing hope or with all that time he had to think about other things, like the possibility of winning a girlfriend, or he’d go ballistic. I guess I’ll just leave this up to other readers if this was the right way to go about this part.
And wow, James Halliday was an ambiguous dude. The clues he leaves could mean a million different coincidences without exaggeration. But it was clear he didn’t want someone who didn’t understand the escapism of video games and had the money to pay scholars off to be it. Forget trying to figure it out yourself; this is not welcoming in the wheredunit. But it’s wholly welcoming in the howdunit. I was always excited to find out what the answer was to the riddles and what calamities would be waiting. I loved learning about how this Oasis operates with it being the new big economy, I loved hearing about the strategies the gunters were doing to get the clues and stop others from getting them, and I loved all the ways Wade and the outsiders outsmart the bad guys. But they don’t always outsmart them. Which brings me to this other big fact. Something that really stands out in this book (and the movie) is the antagonists are not idiots for a change. In fact, Wade may not even be the smartest character in the story. Too often in these sorts of stories the corporations are slow, but here they have the resources and scholars to catch up and bypass their way ahead of the race. But Wade and the other gunters aren’t idiots, either. I not only bought the Sixers being infamous due to common knowledge of what IOI would do under control of the Oasis, but it was funny and uplifting hearing about all the ways they’re hunted down and publicly shamed when they show ways of cheating.
Here’s two big examples of their cheating. The trials are supposed to challenge one’s ability of video games, and one’s alone. But IOI are able to switch who’s controlling their avatar so that the best person at the video games or the best person for the moment can go. It’s like every Sixer can turn into a one-man army of various skills. And they put up expensive indestructible barriers preventing others from getting to places they need to be for the challenges. These actions are very comparable to our real-life society, how corporations who have the most money are able to persuade politicians into giving them more privilege over the common man, or how with enough money, people can way more easily break the law even conspicuously and get away with it. There’s also a game Wade ends up playing that ends up irrelevant. Or so we think. He gets a strange reward from it and we forget about it, then when it ends up affecting a huge battle in a huge way, we are so starstruck. Cline told this part of the story so well, that even though having watched the movie I knew the purpose of the strange reward, the scene was still suspenseful and joyful enough.
Video games, television shows and movies from the 80’s, some well-known like Pac-Man, Footloose, Family Ties and Adventure (which may’ve been a forgotten game had it not been for the groundbreaking trick the creator put in, and then maybe not because it was very well-received at the time), and ones not well-known like the arcade games Joust and Tempest. I now really want to play these, though he doesn’t paint them as easy.
I had a load of fun flying through this novel and I can’t wait for Ready Player Two, and I also hope it doesn’t take away my love for this candy-coated rollercoaster of a novel. Oh, and another little thing to mention: Remember how our parents always tell us to get off the screen? Well, that ain’t happening here. Wade is the most sun-deprived antagonist I’ve ever read. He makes Edward Cullen of Twilight look like David Hasselhoff on Baywatch. Thank goodness he finds it in himself to work out. The idea of being indoors and in eyepopping VR as long as he is makes me want the outdoors to never go away. Plus, okay two things, it’s also surprisingly embracing and understanding of lonely people’s sexual desires. It gets equally funny and insightful while on the subject.
If you like this, I’d try Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, an awesome and similarly-written book, and Doctorow makes an appearance in this book as a politician and elected leader of the Oasis, and it would be understandable to you why Wade would vote for him if you’ve read any of his books or articles.