Ready Player One opens in the year 2044, years after society has used up most of its resources and become a desolate wasteland. A virtual reality, known as OASIS, has been created in which people create a detailed persona (an avatar) and can live out their entire lives in the system if they choose. An avatar can go to school, obtain a job, make friends, form relationships, even get married in the OASIS. Wade Watts, known as Parzival in the OASIS, is an average kid living in Oklahoma who spends all his time in OASIS, dreaming of a better life. Like many other citizens, he hopes to make this dream come true by completing a quest established by the late creator of OASIS, James Halliday. Halliday had passed away several years prior and had announced, via video recorded prior to his death, that he had created a quest within the OASIS to obtain three keys, opening three gates, leading to three challenges. Whoever could find these keys and complete the challenges would inherit his multi-billion dollar fortune. The twist of this quest is that it focuses completely on 80s pop trivia; music, movies, and video games. Halliday had been obsessed with 80s culture and designed his quest with clues and challenged catered to the trends of that decade. Wade’s avatar Parzival accidentally stumbles onto the first key and gains notoriety overnight. He finds himself a key contender to finding Halliday’s fortune, along the way making new friends, finding first love, and battling an underhanded corporation that wants to hoard Halliday’s fortune and take over the OASIS.
This book, especially for those who are even remotely familiar with the 80s era, is just downright fun. Cline obviously has a great love and knowledge of 80s trivia and this book is loaded with references to the music, movies and video games of that time. Wade is a very likeable (and more importantly believable) 18-year-old high school student, and his friends and allies are interesting and provide fun minor sub-plots. Where I really think Cline shines is in his story structure. The whole book reminds of an 80s-esque quest movie (think The Goonies or Indiana Jones set in the virtual world) and Cline utilizes the underdog hero vs. a formidable evil villain format, but adds his own unique details and twists to the story. His vast knowledge of 80s trivia only adds to the fun (and the use of one of my favorite movies of all time in the final challenge had me cackling with glee). This book is fast-moving, with great characters and a compelling story. I can’t recommend it enough.