A couple of years ago, a bloke called Ernest Cline wrote a film called ‘Fanboys‘, about a group of friends coming together to help a friend with terminal cancer see ‘The Phantom Menace‘ before release.
Some dying wish, huh?
It was a lovely ode to nerd culture, the importance of human connection, made with love and reverence for fandom, Star Wars and growing up geek.
A few years later, he’s back paying tribute to more obsessions of his youth – this time, video games, in his debut novel, ‘Ready Player One‘. It’s a much more ambitious work, a big greasy cheeseburger of a novel.
It’s 2044 and in the wake of energy crises and a couple more little skirmishes in the Middle East, the US is screwed. Credit card companies have begun imprisoning those who can’t make their payments in a form of indentured servitude. Ringing the major cities are ‘stacks’ of trailers, forming dense, murky neighbourhoods. In an effort to escape the festering suckhole the world has become, most of the population stay connected to the OASIS, a combination VR world and MMORPG.
Out of the stacks of Oklahoma City comes Wade Watts, an overweight, acne-scarred geek who scrapes by on what he can find, while dodging his abusive aunt and uncle. He is a ‘gunter’, a player in a vast treasure hunt set in motion by the OASIS’ creator, a fellow by the name of James Halliday.
Halliday’s treasure hunt is a worldwide obsession. Just before he died, he announced that he would turn over control of the OASIS – the future equivalent of the internet, really – and 140 billion dollars to the person who could find a well-hidden ‘easter egg’ somewhere in his creation. Clans of ‘gunters’, spend every waking moment searching for this egg, while an eeeeevil corporation, known as IOI, spends millions searching for it so they can go and ruin the OASIS with ads and stuff.
The adventure kicks off when Wade is the first to find the Copper Key, the first piece in the puzzle. What follows over the next couple of hundred pages is a unique combination of YA adult adventure and dystopian cyberpunk rumbling, peppered with eighties references – Halliday was a child of the eighties, and his love of the era has single-handedly made the 2040s population mad for the era of ‘Back To The Future‘, Reagan and Atari.
‘Ready Player One’ can be dense, and slightly-overpowering in its literally hundreds of references to films, video games and music, but when it hits its stride, it really becomes something worth your time. I called it a ‘cheeseburger of a novel’ earlier and I really do think the metaphor is apt – it’s like a homemade drunken fry-up, featuring everything in the cupboard thrown into the pan. It’s bad for you, the house stinks of garlic, cheese and some godawful spice, but it’s also immensely satisfying. You don’t want to live on it all the time, but sometimes it’s just the thing you need.
Four out of a possible five Space Invaders.