I was born and grew up in the 1980s. I was not a gamer, and was not much into pop culture. Even so, I had a lot of fun with Ready Player One. Set 18 years from now, the world is basically lived in a virtual setting known as OASIS. When the company founder, James Halliday, dies, he leaves a challenge, basically a treasure hunt through OASIS based on 80s trivia (the era of his youth). Naturally a culture of studying everything 80s from the music, movies, games, technology, etc develops. Wade as one of these ‘gunters’ is just trying to survive a difficult home life and getting through high school. In his spare time, he works on trying to solve the puzzle left behind by James Halliday.
Wade Watts, avatar Parzival, is the first person to figure out the first clue, which sets off the race to find the other clues. Wade makes friends along the way but also has to struggle against the corporate evil of the Sixers and their leader Sorrento who want to win who want use control of OASIS for profit.
I loved the action, and the tension between the real and virtual worlds. A lot of stories that take place in both real and digital worlds contain some degree of philosophical reflection about the nature of reality, and this one is no exception. What I liked about it was that this philosophizing went to the human level, as opposed to pure philosophy. What happens to people when they start to feel they can only be happy in virtual reality as opposed to living in real life? There’s a cheesy but still touching moment between Wade and Halliday’s avatar near the end of the book that touches on this subject.
Most of the characters were relatable and interesting. It would have been nice if Sorrento had more backstory because then he might have a more interesting personal motive. Wade looks him up and finds out that Sorrento used to be a good game programmer before taking his corporate job. So why did he do it? This question bugs me especially because of some of the measures that Sorrento and his Sixers take to try to win really should have a reason beyond corporate sell out loyalty.
There is lot of character growth especially as the gamers start meet each other in real life; Aech’s reveal is particularly unexpected, in a good way. Aech is Wade’s best friend in the digital world, and even though Aech is not what anyone would have seen coming, the relationship between the two gamers transfers well from digital to real. Lesson: appearances aren’t everything, etc. Wade ends up going a little bit Mission Impossible in the second third of the book, and the final race to the end includes Monty Python. All good things, even if some of them are implausible based on previous evidence from the character or situation. This book is eclectic and that’s good. It means you don’t need to be an 80s geek or a gamer to enjoy it. The start was a little slow, but when the story picks up, it goes without stopping.