Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is another one of those jewels of the fictional world. It is a book written by a nerd for nerds and it’s full of nerdy goodness. The genius of Ready Player One is that it will be slightly different for each reader depending upon what the reader’s nerd love of choice is. But I get ahead of myself.
I don’t want to give too many spoilers but there are some. Please be aware: Some spoilers ahead.
Ready Player One is set in the near future. It’s a dystopian future that is all too easily imagined right now. Environmental disasters have piled on top of an ongoing energy crisis that is only getting worse. People are desperately poor and opportunities to escape poverty for a better life are rare if not outright impossible to reach.
In this setting a Steve Jobs like man named James Halliday started his own gaming company GSS and in the end created a multi-verse in a submersive virtual reality called OASIS. It has a very Tron-esque feel to it but it is not Tron. This game has become the most popular game on the planet. The story really starts at the death of Halliday. With no heirs, Halliday sets up a competition, a game within the game to find a singular Easter egg of his devising. The first person to find the egg wins Oasis and Halliday’s vast wealth.
Of course with an entire world living in poverty, a lot of people start searching the game for the egg. Wade Watts is the protagonist of this novel. He’s a young man, who is very socially awkward and an orphan. There are so many brilliant things about Ready Player One and the first is that it plays upon the fantasy that so many gamers have had: That somehow their gaming knowledge and skills will transcend the realm of make believe and have a positive and public impact upon the world. Not just to be the hero of the video game but to somehow be a hero in the real world too. This is the heart of Ready Player One.
Cline’s genius is that this novel will have a different impact upon each person who reads it. Halliday’s obsession was with 1980’s nerd culture and all of the clues and riddles have to do with it. So to the extent and specifics of the reader’s particular favorite nerdoms the book will speak to them uniquely. There is something delightful about reading Ready Player One and seeing a call out to some obscure show or movie or game that you discovered and enjoyed (and maybe still do).
Wade goes by the name Parzival in the OASIS. He’s a poor kid who lives in the stacks with his aunt and her boyfriend du jour. That’s another idea I love about this novel. The stacks.
In Ready Player One, land is too valuable for people to live in sprawling houses. No one can afford them or the fuel to drive cars in to work. The energy crisis has made commuting farther than one can walk all but impossible. Even now some people, easily imagining just such issues have imagined huge towers that are self-sustaining where thousands of people can live their entire lives without ever stepping outside. These towers have parks, schools, jobs, amusements and everything a person could wish for.
In his far darker and perhaps more realistic vision, Cline imagines people stacking mobile homes one atop another into stacks. They build scaffolding around each home to support it. It’s not the grand vision of the future that some had, but it is a practical and very plausible solution.
IOI, a rival corporation to Halliday’s GSS also hunts the egg and they are using every dirty trick in the book, and making up a few new ones of their own. Despite throwing all but unlimited money at the problem and hiring as many people as they can to decipher the first clue they fail.
It is Wade’s very poverty that leads him to figuring out the first clue and getting the first of three keys that lead to the Easter egg. This is at once exciting and suddenly very dangerous. IOI is a great faceless villain. They enslave people who end up in debt through legalized indentured servitude, they kill people, they threaten Wade and his few friends, they’re just all around bad guys.
Now what, you may be wondering, does this have to do with Godzilla or Kaiju? Well that’s the beauty of it. Remember Halliday was obsessed with 80’s nerd culture, which means so are the people on the hunt for the egg. Parzival finds a quest and invites two of his friends to help him out. At the end they receive a unique artifact for winning the quest. That artifact is the Beta Capsule. Yes, THAT Beta Capsule. The one that transforms Hyata into Ultraman! (Squeee!) And it plays an important part in the final battle. So does Kiryu. Yes I said Kiryu.
The OASIS is a virtual reality but it was coded by gamers and geeks and nerds. There’s a planet named Gygax in the OASIS. Just let that sink in for a minute. Ready Player One is a complex tale, at once dystopic and delightful. Despite an entire generation being obsessed with 80’s pop culture, author Cline manages to keep the plot moving and suspenseful too.
Ready Player One is one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time. I’d rank it right up there with The Martian by Andy Weir. There is a rumor regarding a possible movie in the works but I don’t honestly see how any studio would be able to get all the rights to all of the plot important pop culture references made in Ready Player One. The book, though, is well worth a read.