Yeah, I’m late to the party on this one. Actually, I’m usually late to the party–one of these days I’m gonna show up before the party starts and pass out from tequila before you all even walk through the door and you’re gonna be shocked. (Just kidding, I hate tequila.) Anyway, I’ve been curious about this book since I first started hearing about it on CBR, and now with the imminent release of the major motion picture, I decided I’d better jump on it in case Hollywood, you know, pulls a Hollywood.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the movie is going to be directed by Steven Spielberg. On the one hand, Steven Spielberg directed Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is one of my all-time favorite films; on the other hand Steven Spielberg directed the third sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which shall go unnamed. I was happy to see that Ernest Cline co-wrote the screenplay, but so many things could still go wrong with this movie. It could get all sappy just moments from the end à la Minority Report; it could beat you over the head with its message à la The Post; it could be 20 minutes too long because Spielberg couldn’t bring himself to edit down the multiple beginnings and/or endings à la Catch Me If You Can. It could just outright suck à la The Terminal.
You mean 2+ hours of product placement plus Tom Hanks bathing in a sink DOESN’T equal Oscar buzz?
So with that in mind, I wanted to read this novel before any film adaptation prejudiced me one way or another. I have to say it’s been a long time since I’ve read something this fun and engaging. Written to make any gamer, D&D fan, or child of the 80s fall in love, it had me with its Ghostbusters reference on page 1 (“Dogs and cats living together. . .mass hysteria!”). The references come fast and furious. Whether they are nods to 80s films like Heathers and Ladyhawke; or musical giants like REM and Billy Idol; or video game classics like Donkey Kong and Adventure; the allusions are designed to make your inner geek happier than if you’d rolled a crit against an ogre with your +1 broadsword and found a Ring of Free action among its treasure.
I don’t mean to make this sound like it’s simply an 80s love fest, though. Cline has crafted a plot that sweeps the reader along on a fast-paced, high-tech scavenger hunt. In broad strokes, the novel takes place in 2045 where the world basically blows: poverty, pollution, corporations in control.
Or as I like to call it, 2018
To escape the harsh realities of life, most people, including our hero Wade Watts, spend as much time as possible in the OASIS, a computer-generated, 3D world. Wade even goes to school in the OASIS and hangs with Aech (pronounced H), his one real friend, in a virtual rec room. When James Halliday, inventor of OASIS, dies and leaves a message announcing that there’s an “easter egg” hidden somewhere inside, the race is on, with the victor winning not only fabulous riches, but control of OASIS itself.
As much fun as this book is, it also approaches the dangers that arise from living in this virtual world without demonizing the technology. Loneliness and inability to connect with others IRL are major themes in this novel, as is the danger of letting corporations control too much of the system. The prime antagonist is a corporation: Innovated Online Industries, or IOI, is desperate to get the egg first and hires an entire fleet of employees to help find it. These employees agree to turn over anything they find to IOI in return for salary and benefits (remember this is a world where poverty is rampant). The physical embodiment of IOI is the firm’s representative, Nolan Sorrento, but make no mistake: IOI is the one you really need to be afraid of. As Wade ponders, “The moment IOI took over, the OASIS would cease to be the open-source virtual utopia I’d grown up in. It would become a corporate-run dystopia, an overpriced theme park for wealthy elitists.”
Wait, why does that sound familiar?
So yeah, lots of food for thought for our current state of affairs as well as a fun romp through a digital world. If I have any criticism, it would be that at times the 80s references did seem to come non-stop. I can only congratulate myself so many times for catching an obscure reference to Star Trek or Tolkein.
You know what, I think I’m getting pretty psyched for this movie. Maybe Spielberg will pull a Jaws or a Close Encounters! Hey you know what else I hate? When studios put out a promotional book with an image from the movie on the. . .
Oh come on!