Ernest Cline has written, not just a paean to early 80s video games, but a nostalgic trip back to the entire 80s geek culture. It pulls in details from earlier decades as well that were popular in the 80s (such as Monty Python) and is a celebration. Ready Player One is a book for people who grew up in that time or have an affection for that culture. The rest of the book is a mediocre mystery with not a lot of characterization, setting or plot. But if the subject matter is in your wheelhouse, then you’ll love it. So, let’s visit the future who wants to visit the past.
Wade O Watts not only has the perfect initials for a high score screen on an 80s video game, but he’s played so many of them that he can easily get the high score on almost all of them. And in the year 2044, this is a big deal because of James Halliday. Halliday was a geeky teenager in the 1980s before he became the biggest game developer ever. After a couple decades on top, he disappeared for a few years and then came back with OASIS. OASIS is an immersive universe where there are hundreds (if not thousands) of planets where different rules can apply (some can allow magic and/or technology, some are educational, some are combat). OASIS quickly becomes not only the biggest game ever, but, for most people, their life. The world outside has pretty much gone to hell, but there is always OASIS. When Halliday dies, he leaves a film entitled “Anorak’s Invitation”. The person who can break through the 80s soaked mystery and solve the puzzle will win everything (and by everything, I mean OASIS).
Wade goes by the OASIS name of Parzival and, along with his buddy Aech and his love interest Art3mis, spend his time trying to solve the riddle. Wade becomes famous when he is the first person to solve the first riddle. This make him famous enough to actually earn a living and famous enough for people to kill. For, you see, there are bad guys known as the IOIers. They are a company whose entire purpose is to win OASIS (whereupon they’ll start charging monthly fees and placing ads to make money). IOI is the boogeyman bad guys who are only in it to make money. And Cline name drops Wil Wheaton and Cory Doctorow as the geek gods who help keep things running smoothly and free. Most of the book is Wade trying to solve the puzzle, keep up with his friends and avoid IOI related harm (even if it means he has to go into the belly of the beast to stay out of harm’s way).
Overall the only character developed is Wade. He is the center and the sole focus point of the book. But it’s difficult to say that he was developed. It’s more like he’s the main character in a giant video game and his job is to move from point A to point B to keep the pages moving. Everyone else is pretty much stereotypically good or stereotypically bad, there really are no shades of grey in Cline’s world. The 80s nostalgia is done well and is in every page of the book. The mystery isn’t really a mystery as much as a series of puzzles that only the main character (and his band of good guys) can solve. The book is well written and there are only a few plot holes. Mildly recommended for those who are looking for some nostalgia reading.