Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is a science fiction novel that unabashedly celebrates it's own genre. I dare you to find another book with as many references to classic video games, comic books, sci-fi/fantasy novels, and film, as this one. Though I'm sure Patton Oswalt's Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is a close second.
Cline's novel also revels in pure 1980s nostalgia: the arcades and pizza parlors, John Hughes films, shag carpeting and wood paneling...so um, pretty much my childhood. Sure, I was more a child of the 90s. But growing up in rural Virginia, we were pretty much 10 years behind the rest of the world anyway. I spent a significant portion of my childhood swinging Pitfall Harry over crocodiles, shooting asteroids, and jumping barrels on the lovely Atari 2600. And don't even get me started on the NES.
Ready Player One is set in an uncomfortably near dystopian future, where humanity escapes the crushing poverty and desolation of their reality by living vicariously in a free world-wide MMPORPG called OASIS. From home they can put on virtual reality equipment, login to OASIS, and live their lives in a virtual world. Think Second Life x1,000,000.
When the designer of OASIS dies, he decides to leave his entire fortune (hundreds of billions) and control over the OASIS to whoever can unlock an easter egg he's hidden inside the game. But it's not going to be easy; unless you're a whiz at 80's pop-culture trivia, can make the highest score possible in Pacman, and know every single line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except in this version Mike Teavee would be the winner.
From the publisher's blurb: "part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed." Yeah, there you go.
If every book was this fun and addictive, you would never be able to pry me away from my couch. Few books come along that I want to recommend so badly that I can barely contain myself from throwing copies of it at people in the street. So if you're a child of the 80s, the 90s, or at heart, do yourself a favor and pick up this book.
Here are some passages:
I started to figure out the ugly truth as soon as I began to explore the free OASIS libraries. The facts were right there waiting for me, hidden in old books written by people who weren't afraid to be honest. Artists and scientists and philosophers and poets, many of them long dead. As I read the words they'd left behind, I finally began to get a grip on the situation. My situation. Our situation. What most people referred to as "the human condition."
It was not good news.
What would happen if I somehow became rich:
Halliday bought and restored one of the original Deloreans used in Back to the Future films, continued to spend nearly all of his time welded to a computer keyboard, and used his newfound wealth to amass what would eventually become the world's largest private collection of action figures, vintage lunch boxes, and comic books.
Fun facts about Ernest Cline:
He also wrote the screenplay for Fanboys, and is currently working on the screenplay for the film adaptation of Ready Player One. He has a wonderfully geeky website at http://ernestcline.com/. He also does poetry performances, and I would recommend you listen to "Nerd Porn Auteur" (although not at work).
Complete the cycle and play the Ready Player One 8-bit game: