The throne melted and morphed into an old coin-operated videogame cabinet. Two joysticks protruded from its control panel, one yellow and one blue. I couldn’t help but grin as I read the name on the game’s backlit marquee; JOUST, Williams Electronics, 1982.
“Best two out of three games.” Acererak rasped. “If you win, I shall grant you what you seek.”
“What if you win?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“If I am victorious,” the lich said, the rubies in his eye sockets blazing even brighter, “then you shall die!” A ball of swirling orange appeared in his right hand. He raised it threateningly.
“Of course,” I said. “That was my first guess. Just wanted to double-check.”
The fireball in Acererak’s hand vanished. He stretched out his leather palm, which now held two shiny quarters. “The games are on me,” he said.
Wade fights an undead lich in a deadly game of Joust in Ready Player One.
Before I start, I should say that I’m not sure I’ve read a book like this before. It probably sits within the Sci-Fi genre, but has elements from other genres, such as fantasy and mystery.
The story is set in a world where a global recession has been underway for a number of years and rather than address the world going under, humans do what they do best – ignore it and log in to a virtual world where the possibilities are endless. (Think Matrix dipped in whatever genre you prefer).
The originator of the virtual world, OASIS dies and decides to leave his massive fortune to whomever is first to solve a set of clues / Easter eggs hidden within the worlds. Our protagonist is Wade, a rag-tag kid with little else happening in his life other than logging in to OASIS. Furthermore, he is so poor that he cannot afford to leave the school ‘world’ like all his friends. So, he decides to devote all of his spare time to solving this mystery, although with a prize pot of over $100 Billion he isn’t alone.
A journey ensues that takes the reader through many different virtual destinations as the race begins to get underway as the clues are found – all of this is shown via a High Score screen that most of the planet eagerly watch. The pace increases as different people unravel the clues and the barriers to the goal begin to fall quicker and quicker. All of these lead us to an ending that culminates wonderfully in a style akin to an action movie mixed with the fighting elements of a World of Warcraft raid.
If that wasn’t enough (ok, my inner geek is grinning), there are so many references to 80’s pop culture that anyone lucky enough to be around in that decade (which I was), will be reminiscing with a great big smile on their faces. (I hit Youtube so many times during the reading of this book just to look up old TV programs, games and music videos).
Aside from the core elements of the story itself, Cline has clearly done some research in this area and many of his ideas could easily become real, if they aren’t already, such as having to attend virtual school where the a hologram of a teacher reads out the lessons, and the students are automatically muted so they can’t be disruptive.
A little bit of information about the author himself shouldn’t go amiss here. Ernest Cline, whilst having a name that reminds me of someone from the 40’s or 50’s, was actually born in 1972 (hence the affection for the 80’s) and is the brains behind the movies, Fanboys. This movie is about a group of Star Wars fans who have a friend suffering from terminal cancer. They decide to break him into George Lucas’ house so he can watch an un-released version of The Phantom Menace.