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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I heard about this book a lot when it was out in hardcover last year, and while parts, like the massive tribute to 1980s pop culture, but at the same time it was a science fiction novel about the most massive video game ever invented and a teenager hunting for "Easter eggs" in order to win a ton of money, and that wasn't quite as appealing. Luckily the great reviews and pop culture won me over and I suggested it for my book club's annual sci fi selection.

And the above plot description does work, but it's so much more than that. The book is set in 2044, and we've pretty much destroyed the planet. Luckily this massive online "game" has been created that takes the place of the real world for most people most of the time. Our protagonist, Wade, even goes to school in it. You can shop, fall in love, get married, travel, and do pretty much everything you can do in real life. Without your friends knowing who you really are, and so you can reinvent yourself. The creator of this world left his entire fortune to whoever can figure out the virtual treasure hunt he programmed into the game, and for years thousands of people have been searching. After five years, the hunters have dropped to hundreds, including Wade, and then one day Wade figures out the first clue. And solves the first puzzle and gets the first of three keys to the treasure. And now the hunt is on! And some people are willing to kill to solve it.

The book was fun and a rollicking adventure along the lines of a medieval quest tale, which tests your knowledge of early Matthew Broderick movies, 80s new wave lyrics, and other pop culture trivia that totally hit my personal sweet spot (I wonder if the author is exactly my age!) A couple of our book club members found the world-building and back story to drag a little but I didn't notice that one bit. I think if you get into the story, the background becomes so integral that you don't at all mind it. I liked Wade and his friends, I very much liked the anticipation and suspense built into the quest, and the nagging worry that you don't know if anyone is who they say they are. There were some fun twists with that at the end, not all of which I predicted, and I really liked Wade's growth as a character through the many months this takes place over.

While this book is a no-brainer for any science fiction fan and gamer, it really does work for people with only a very passing knowledge of that world. For the record, the last and only video game console I have ever owned was an Atari 2600, which we got after Nintendo came out and the Atari became obsolete, but we loved it anyway. I rocked at Kaboom! and Bump and Jump and Haunted House and Pitfall. It didn't hurt my understanding or enjoyment of the novel one bit. I thoroughly loved it and recommend it very highly.

I bought this book at B&N.