Ready Player One

Ready Player One

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power an...

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Title:Ready Player One
Author:Ernest Cline
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Ready Player One Reviews

  • Patrick

    I got to read an ARC of this, and it appealed to every geeky part of me.

    I'll probably write a blog about it later, but for now, a brief review:

    Simply said? This book was fucking awesome.

  • Flannery

    This book is nostalgia porn. If you grew up in the 80s, enjoy video games, or go crazy for popular culture, you will devour this one. I was supposed to be reading this with a friend but I couldn’t stop. I read the beginning and thought, “what’s the big deal with everyone’s obsession?” Then Ernest Cline got his meat hooks into me and I read it while I was making dinner, while I was eating dinner, and then afterward until I’d finished it. I think I am just a few years shy of this books prime audie

    This book is nostalgia porn. If you grew up in the 80s, enjoy video games, or go crazy for popular culture, you will devour this one. I was supposed to be reading this with a friend but I couldn’t stop. I read the beginning and thought, “what’s the big deal with everyone’s obsession?” Then Ernest Cline got his meat hooks into me and I read it while I was making dinner, while I was eating dinner, and then afterward until I’d finished it. I think I am just a few years shy of this books prime audience but I can see how it will appeal to most of my

    friends.

    is set in a future where we have depleted our resources to the point where many people lives in Stacks, which are basically just trailer homes piled 20+ high, and many people struggle to make ends meet. Wade Watts, the protagonist, attends school in OASIS like many of his peers. OASIS, an online world created by James Halliday, contains thousands of different worlds, including copies of many famous sci-fi verses—I’m sure you could spend most of your time in Sunnydale or on Dune if you wanted to. In a very

    move, Halliday leaves his entire $250 billion fortune to the player who can find the Easter egg hidden in OASIS. The book is set five years after his death and no player has gotten even one step closer to figuring out Halliday’s mystery. And the kicker? Halliday’s obsession, besides video games, was the 1980s. All the kids and adults alike are well-versed in all things 1980s from fashion to music to games to computers. These characters know more about the 1980s than most people who lived through them.

    Wade Watts has spent years playing through all of Halliday’s favorite games and songs trying to figure out the first step. When Wade figures out the first move, his name shoots to the top of a previously empty high-scorers list and the world goes into a frenzy. The entire rest of the book follows Wade and his fellow contestants through the game in their attempts to reach the goal first. It seems like every person in the world is up against each other—especially the “gunters” (egg hunters) and the “sixers.” (Corporately-sponsored hunters who want to take over the OASIS for monetary gain, so-called because their avatar names begin with the number 6) My adrenaline ran high for the whole book. In fact, I actually kept speaking to Wade aloud. “Wade, what the hell are you doing? You are past the first gate! Pull your head out of your ass and stop spending your time at dance parties!” “Art3mis is so much smarter than you, Wade!” Wade’s fellow gunters include his long-time online crush, Art3mis and his BFF Aech (pronounced like the letter H). They were seriously awesome side characters with distinct personalities, which I especially enjoyed considering I have several friends on Goodreads whom I’ve never met in real life but I feel like I know pretty well.

    My experience with WoW and Second Life is pretty minimal…well, I

    once try Second Life but it mostly consisted of my friends and I goofing around and then accidentally wandering into an orgy and getting yelled at. Anyway, my point is that people quest all the time and talk to the same people regularly online. They have distinct personalities. I’m so happy that Ernest Cline was able to capture the personalities so well when the characters were only together outside of OASIS for limited amounts of time.

    As someone who has spent probably entire weeks of her life playing video games, this book feels a bit like validation. SEE, NERD! YOUR TIME SPENT COLLECTING RUPEES WASN’T FOR NOTHING!

    Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this highly addictive and fun read!

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    The middle school I attended was a 1930s WPA project that by the 1970s was a lethal cocktail of toxic mold from the water leaks and cancer causing asbestos. I'm hoping, since several decades have passed, that all the nasty microbes I inhaled while conjugating verbs and wrestling with algebra have long since been frog marched out of my body. I was a rural kid and had to wait for the bus to come pick me

    The middle school I attended was a 1930s WPA project that by the 1970s was a lethal cocktail of toxic mold from the water leaks and cancer causing asbestos. I'm hoping, since several decades have passed, that all the nasty microbes I inhaled while conjugating verbs and wrestling with algebra have long since been frog marched out of my body. I was a rural kid and had to wait for the bus to come pick me up after school. The bus was always late which was a real pain in the ass for a scrawny kid like me who was trying to avoid the hulking, megalithic Hoover clan. They were massive, with beach ball bellies and Neanderthal brows. They had freckle specked Popeye arms and flaming red hair. They were full grown men in middle school with mustaches and sideburns. They liked to grab underweight kids by the neck and dangle them off the ground for entertainment.

    A new pizza place opened across the highway. The pizza was passable, but I wasn't there for the pizza. When I walked in those doors I claimed sanctuary. It didn't take long for the owner to 86 the Hoover boys because he didn't want me to be interrupted putting quarter after quarter into this colorful black box called

    .

    If I were to get the high score the pizza guy would give me a slice. I soon learned that I could barter that slice for safe conduct onto my bus. It was worth the investment to buy a piece and watch the Hoover

    men tear the slice into pieces nearly coming to blows in the process, although I probably could have brought them roadkill with similar results.

    The place also had Asteroids which I loved as well, but my first love was Defender. I would only play Asteroids if someone was already playing Defender. Even while immersed in blowing up interstellar asteroids I would catch myself looking longingly over at Defender.

    Yes, it was a whirlwind romance born out of a need for survival. When I moved to high school I would stop in once in a while, but I'd grown as a person and Defender...well...had stayed the same. Our romance had gotten away from us somehow and it was time for both of us to move on to other people like Molly Ringwald.

    Yes, I know it is embarrassing to admit it now, but I, like a large majority of boys and a good percentage of girls, had a crush on Molly. She wasn't the best role model for girls and I paid the price for her influence. The girls I dated in high school were that much more a pain in the ass because Molly Ringwald was their idol from the clothes they wore to the way they talked. Is that the time period when

    came into common usage? I wore a

    jacket and wished like hell my parents had cable so I could watch MTV. It was always a struggle trying to be cool in Kansas in the 1980s.

    Wade Watts, our hero, is an orphan. He was taken in by an aunt because she wanted the extra food vouchers. She doesn't share the food,a bit of a Dickens situation going on, which forces Wade to scramble for his own food supply. They live in these lovely stacked trailers on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.

    Living in this world of 2044 would have been horrible except for a man named James Halliday who had invented OASIS a

    . You could live in the nastiest slag heap on the planet, but in OASIS, where you spent most of your time, you could build a paradise. When Halliday died he left a series of clues that created a world sensation. The first person to figure out the clues wins the Halliday fortune...$140 billion. Halliday was a fan of 1980s pop culture and built his clues around his love of that era. Those involved in the search have to become experts on everything 1980s. The dialogue of every John Hughes film, the man who brought us Molly Ringwald, must be memorized. They have to learn how to play vintage video games such as Defender, Asteroids, Joust and Pac-Man. They have to watch all the television episodes from that era searching for clues to the puzzle. They have to know Devo lyrics and the words to every other 1980s pop song. Needless to say, most of the population give up, and go back to other pursuits as the years pass without any breakthroughs.

    Wade is determined and with the help of his best friend Aech pronounced H they continue to sift through archival material looking for that clue that will lead them to the next clue. When Wade finds the first clue and opens the first gate of the elaborate treasure hunt he becomes a world sensation, and draws the attention of the Sixers, the evil corporation intent on dominating OASIS. If they find the clues before Wade and his friends, and unlock the Halliday fortune, OASIS would be under their control.

    During his quest, his online name is Parzival, Wade meets a girl.

    I'm such a sucker for boy meets girl, boy wins girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. Cline mines this tried and true formula to perfection.

    The reader is shotgunned with 1980s pop culture which I know has bothered some reviewers. I thought it was great. I've been listening to '80s music all week on my iPod because the book brought back memories of songs that I first heard on cassette tapes. I wasn't ever a gamer. My brief fling with Defender has been the only time I've spent any significant amount of time playing video games. To enjoy this book I don't think you have to be a connoisseur of vintage video games or have spent hours playing D&D, but I think those people with that background will enjoy it more because the references will ignite; hopefully, fond memories for them. If you pine for the 1980s you should definitely read this book. The plot was fascinating and kept the pages turning.

    This book went viral in the collecting world. First edition, first printing are bringing $200. I read somewhere that the print run was 15,000 which is reasonably small. If a large percentage of the first printings were bought by libraries it could stay a much sought after collectible for years to come. If you have a first edition, first printing tuck it away somewhere safe. It could turn out to provide a really good return on your initial investment.

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  • Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies

    Speaking as a formerly addicted World of Warcraft player (among others), I loved it.

    I believe you can tell the author's passion from what he's written, and it is clear from this book that Ernest Cline is a fellow gamer and geek. I salute him. His ardor for games is so clearly felt within this book. A fellow fangirl/fanboy can sniff out a fake one like a dead fish within a Bath and Body Works (ok, that may be a bad example, but you catch my drift).

    Speaking as a formerly addicted World of Warcraft player (among others), I loved it.

    I believe you can tell the author's passion from what he's written, and it is clear from this book that Ernest Cline is a fellow gamer and geek. I salute him. His ardor for games is so clearly felt within this book. A fellow fangirl/fanboy can sniff out a fake one like a dead fish within a Bath and Body Works (ok, that may be a bad example, but you catch my drift).

    . I salute you, sir.

    This book is for fanboys and fangirls. There are those who don't like it. There are those who feel that there are

    , inserted solely for a wink and a nudge from the author to the reader. To those people, I say: SO WHAT?! I welcomed those references. It makes me feel good because I know what they are.

    IN ONE PARAGRAPH, HE REFERENCED SO MANY THINGS THAT I LOVE. How could I hate the references? I have a soul!!!!!!!! I get excited, ok? ._.

    So here's what I liked about this book:

    1. I liked the main character

    2. I liked the future world

    3. I liked the realistic feeling of an online gaming scene

    Wade is a good kid. He's had a rough life.

    He's nothing special. He's an overweight (and simultaneously malnourished) kid. He doesn't do too well in school. He could be any of my friends who have played games.

    He is a nice kid. He doesn't blame people for circumstances that are beyond their control.

    It's a shitty world. People have to survive the best way they know how, sometimes those ways are self-destructive.

    A lot of the problems with dystopian fiction is that they're too drastic. Barely 100 years into the future, the world has created a new society, etc. The world in this book is set in 2044, and admittedly, it is pretty grim, but I still found it believable.

    There's been an energy crisis, there's global warming, civilization is decline but not completely in the shithole yet. Life is crappy. I've always thought that life would be awful for my grandchildren, and this book pretty much tells it how I believe it could be. And god help us if Trump is elected president.

    I also love Cline's explanation of the way online gaming works, down to its community. He clearly knows his shit, from user names to avatars. There are some funny tidbits.

    But really, it's the nostalgia of my gaming days that clinches this book for me. The online camaraderie. The late nights gaming together, the bonding that takes place over Ventrilo after defeating a difficult challenge. I got to know many friends whom I wouldn't ordinary have talked to in the real world. It's a bonding experience that is as much a part of the game as the game itself. Often, it's community that truly makes the experience memorable. And yes, the online romances. This book portrays all of that, and so what if it banks on my nostalgia? I'll take it.

    Granted, it is overly long, and too detailed at times. It does lack complexity, and would be more of a middle-grade book if not for its length and content, but overall, it was a solidly good book.

  • William Cline

    For most of the first half of this book, I was unimpressed. The writing was flat, and the story was unremarkable. The book gets hype because of its pervasive use of 1980s popular culture, particularly its references to science fiction, fantasy, and video games. The problem was that most of these references served no purpose. Something would be described by pointing out its resemblance to something from a film or television show—a particularly annoying form of "telling, rather than showing" given

    For most of the first half of this book, I was unimpressed. The writing was flat, and the story was unremarkable. The book gets hype because of its pervasive use of 1980s popular culture, particularly its references to science fiction, fantasy, and video games. The problem was that most of these references served no purpose. Something would be described by pointing out its resemblance to something from a film or television show—a particularly annoying form of "telling, rather than showing" given that a reader of the wrong age or background won't know the reference—but said reference would add nothing to the events at hand. Either that, or the reference would be carried to cringe-worthy, fan-fiction-grade extremes. For instance, in one scene, the online avatar of the main character, Wade Watts (known online as Parzival) pilots a DeLorean DMC-12 resembling the one used in the

    films, except for the addition of the computerized voice and sweeping red light of KITT from

    , a pair of Ghost Busters logos adorning the doors, and a license plate reading "ECTO 88".

    Whether mentioned in passing or over the top like the aforementioned mash-up car, however, virtually all of these allusions are brought up and then dropped in the space of a sentence. The DeLorean, for example, takes up a couple of paragraphs and is then never used again.

    doesn't draw from 1980s popular culture; it just name-drops it all over the place. Sometimes it seemed the only purpose for these references was that the author and reader could share a knowing, self-congratulating smile.

    The notion of a "massively multiplayer" online role-playing game becoming the human race's main form of entertainment presents some amusing possibilities, though, and

    doesn't completely squander its potential. The moment when I started to enjoy the book came about halfway through, in a chapter describing a day in Wade's life some time after his

    Cline shares the late twentieth century computer geek's vision of the Internet as a benevolent force. Wade has genuine feelings of friendship and love for his online friends, people he would never have met offline, people with whom he shares bonds of mutual interests and ideals rather than geography. An online world is one without racism or other prejudices. (Or at least, it's a world where you can avoid these prejudices by configuring your avatar appropriately. Let's not go into the implications of

    .) Furthermore, despite its post-energy-crisis shabbiness, the world of

    is one in which the good guys have won: free speech, privacy, and "net neutrality" all rule the day.

    At the same time, no matter how cool he tries to make the OASIS (and I admit, it

    cool), Cline is conflicted about it. Its pleasures are tempered by the fact that for many of its players it serves as a drug, distracting them from the shabby state of real life in late twenty-first century Earth. Wade's dissatisfaction with a life spent entirely online is explored throughout the book, though never deeply. I would have liked to see the book explore this tension between the unifying and isolating effects of the online world in more detail.

    In summary,

    touches on some interesting ideas, although it doesn't explore them as deeply as I would have liked. The writing is nothing special, but it gets the job done. The story gets more interesting in the second half, and the annoying popular culture references become less frequent. I'm glad I stuck it out to the end, but I don't think it deserves whatever hype it's getting in nerd circles.

  • Rick (from Another Book Vlog)

    Back in 2011, Ready Player One was, perhaps, the year's most well-reviewed book. It received glowing commendations from the likes of NPR, The New York Times, Wired, John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, and many, many more. It maintains a 4.3 average score on Goodreads.com (a significant accomplishment given its 20,000+ reviews), and you'd be hard pressed to find a negative review in any major publication.

    In no way can I make any sense of this. Please believe what I am about to write, as it is not even

    Back in 2011, Ready Player One was, perhaps, the year's most well-reviewed book. It received glowing commendations from the likes of NPR, The New York Times, Wired, John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, and many, many more. It maintains a 4.3 average score on Goodreads.com (a significant accomplishment given its 20,000+ reviews), and you'd be hard pressed to find a negative review in any major publication.

    In no way can I make any sense of this. Please believe what I am about to write, as it is not even close to hyperbole:

    Ready Player One was the most disappointing reading experience of my entire life.

    It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of puzzles that will yield a massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

    

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the 1980s. And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize.

    And with that, you've just read the best that Ready Player One has to offer: its synopsis.

    I should preface the rest of this review by stating that I am, and have always been, a geek at heart. I am as much a byproduct of the 1980s as anyone. I've been a lifelong gamer, a pop culture obsessive, and I once thought I'd married, for real, Princess Peach.

    Ready Player One has been hailed by its author, Ernest Cline, as a love letter to anyone who "grew up geek," a sentiment that has been confirmed by every review, in every publication, all over the world. And yet, the Ready Player One that I read was less a love letter to geeks than it was a pat on the back to an 18-year-old Cline, a Stephanie-Meyer-eclipsing Mary Sue that attempts to justify the behavior of an overweight, socially awkward, virginal nerd.

    I'm not being mean. It's literally what it is.

    At its core, Ready Player One is a fairy tale, a treasure hunt. Albeit, one designed by an 80s-obsessed ultra-nerd whose entire life was steeped in nostalgia. Evidently, human creativity peaked with Zork and Legend. So Wade's hunt for Halladay's "easter egg" is one long excuse for a constant—and I do mean constant—barrage of 80s references.

    Actually, scratch that. It's not so much referencing as it is name dropping. 95% of it serves no actual purpose aside from simply mentioning it. At first the references reinforce the story, helping to create a framework that grounds the reader in the "world" Cline has "created" with OASIS. But after the first chapter (yes, the first chapter) these devolve into ceaseless, meaningless throwbacks. The novelty lasts all of ten minutes until you realize that it's all just an annoying form of telling, not showing.

    If the point is to re-enact sections of D&D modules and 80s cult classics, then your readers are just getting third-hand retreads of things that aren't even important to begin with. It's sort of like when your socially-awkward friend resolutely recounts a super-sweet TV show for you, word for word, and all you can do is just sit there and wait until he's finished. Pay $20 for that experience and you get Ready Player One.

    What makes Ready Player One so disappointing is that these references seem to the be the sole purpose of Cline's writing. The novel doesn't say much of anything. Sure, there are a handful of introspective moments—limp attempts at social commentary—but they're of so little consequence they seem thrown in to fulfill some delusion of grandeur.

    Yes, reality really is better and more meaningful than virtual reality. We've been told this in almost every VR-based story known to man. And yet, that's Cline's one takeaway. (Oh, and you should love people for who they are on the inside, even if they have a birthmark on half their face. Thanks Ernest!)

    What's confusing about the 80s obsession, though, is the fact that Ready Player One is, at best, a YA-level read. Cline would sit very comfortably beside the likes of Rick Riordan and Suzanne Collins. Ready Player One is inelegant and shallow at the best of times, and yet, this novel is clearly targeted at the 30-year-old-and-up-crowd (if you're any younger much of the subject material is simply too obscure). This subject/reading-level conflict, then, makes the whole mess inherently problematic.

    And what's worst—no, I haven't even gotten to the worst part yet—is how the entire thing reeks of elitism. Yes, you read that correctly. This is a book about an overweight, unattractive, lazy, delusional, uber-geek elitist, who believes—truly believes—that his knowledge of 80s trivia makes him superior. And Cline basically affirms this! Some guys buy cars, others put socks down their pants, Cline writes 80s trivia novels.

    There is a scene, in chapter 3, in which Wade (or Parzival, as his handle goes), engages in a nerdy rat-a-tat-tat with another OASIS player to see who has more knowledge of 80s pop culture. It is the singularly most embarrassing thing I have ever read from a professional. It's just this much above fan fiction. Actually, fuck that. I've actually read fan fiction more entertaining than this. It was absolutely ridiculous.

    Add to all this the fact that Cline's characters are uniformly flat. Wade, our narrator, is blatant author wish fulfillment and his lessons are trivial, at best. His love interest is present only to represent Wade's "true" victory (her heart). The unknowable best friend who harbours a secret you'll never guess (meaning, you absolutely will). And the villain … a one-dimensional, nearly faceless corporation as uninteresting as a rival boyfriend in a John Hughes movie.

    "If it's a great book, I want to luxuriate in its greatness. And if it's crap, I want it to magically transform itself into genius. This book just stayed crap." – Amy, a reviewer on Amazon.com

    Ready Player One exists solely to glorify hollow pop culture from the 1980s, and yet, Ernest Cline does absolutely nothing to convince the reader that the 80s were cool if he/she didn't think so already. The plot is overly simplistic and plods along with inevitability, making The Da Vinci Code read like a Pulitzer Prize winner. Cline's hero, Wade, is the trivia-equivalent of Superman, where he is so overpowered his "quest" becomes tedious, rather than uplifting. And, at the end of the day, Wade is just an arrogant, elitist prick. (He describes his abject poverty and lack of real world opportunities as like "being in the world's greatest video arcade with no quarters." Seriously, fuck you, Wade.)

    Every time I think about this book I want to make my rating lower. It started as a 2, then dropped to a 1.5, and by the end of this review I feel I have no choice but to give it a 1. I hated this book with every fibre of my being, and it escapes the dreaded 0 only because Cline managed to form actual sentences.

    Never again will I read Ernest Cline. You can count on that.

  • Sissyneck

    That one star is probably misleading...I thought this was going to be a 4-5 star book for a good portion of the time I spent reading it. The 80s pop-culture references are so pervasive and so relevant to my life that, at times, the book felt like it been written specifically for me. (The love interest is described as being like Jordan, from Real Genius...c'mon!)

    But.

    All of the Star Wars, Ferris Bueller, and Highlander references in the world can't hide that this story is at best, empty, and at wo

    That one star is probably misleading...I thought this was going to be a 4-5 star book for a good portion of the time I spent reading it. The 80s pop-culture references are so pervasive and so relevant to my life that, at times, the book felt like it been written specifically for me. (The love interest is described as being like Jordan, from Real Genius...c'mon!)

    But.

    All of the Star Wars, Ferris Bueller, and Highlander references in the world can't hide that this story is at best, empty, and at worst, ugly. Rote plotting, un-earned dickensian coincidences, clumsy deus ex machina (I still don't know how to pluralize that term), the worst kind of tokenism disguised as actually valuing diversity, a profound neglect of the complexities of the real/virtual world dichotomy...Cline has adopted some of the style of Gibson and Stephenson, but none of the substance.

    In a nice manifestation of the novel's lack of self-awareness, Cline at one point derides the villains of the book for simply using "Johnny 5" style robots from Short Circuit instead coming up with their own design. This appropriation, he explaines, demonstrates "a lack of imagination," a valid criticism that only too accurately applies to the ostensible heroes of the book, as well as to Cline himself.

    Update: The plural of "deus ex machina" is "dei ex machinis". Thanks, The Awl!

  • Kemper

    I originally gave this book 3 stars as harmless lightweight fun, but my opinion of it declined as time went by. Then after reading

    I fully realized what a talentless one-trick hack that Cline really is so I changed this rating. Plus, his outraged hardcore fans kept coming on here and telling me that I missed the point since I didn't give it 5 stars so I might as well give them something to really be mad about. If you're one of those Cline fans who wants to whine about it in the comments I

    I originally gave this book 3 stars as harmless lightweight fun, but my opinion of it declined as time went by. Then after reading

    I fully realized what a talentless one-trick hack that Cline really is so I changed this rating. Plus, his outraged hardcore fans kept coming on here and telling me that I missed the point since I didn't give it 5 stars so I might as well give them something to really be mad about. If you're one of those Cline fans who wants to whine about it in the comments I will just delete it and block you.

    “Wow, where’d you come from?”

    “I’m from 2011. Got a time mower and decided to come to the future. I’ll spare you the full origin story. My name’s Kemper.”

    “I’m Wade Watts. Welcome to 2044.”

    “Thanks. I gotta say, things are looking kind of grim around here. Are those mobile homes stacked up like hillbilly skyscrapers?”

    “Yeah, I live in one of them. We’ve had a lot of problems once the cheap fossil fuels started running out. Life kinda sucks ass these days. Fortunately, we’ve got the OASIS.”

    “What’s that?”

    “It’s this virtual reality that’s kind of a combination of the Internet and the biggest MMORPG ever made. Here put this on, and I’ll show you.”

    “Hey, this is pretty sweet, Wade. But what’s with all this old stuff here in your virtual room. It looks like the ‘80s vomited in here.”

    “Oh, it’s part of my research for the contest. See the guy who invented the OASIS was this old nerd named James Halliday. He left an Easter egg hidden somewhere in the OASIS and whoever finds it wins the prize. He was totally obsessed with the ‘80s and nerdly stuff like computers, sci-fi, cartoons, movies, comics and video games. He left three keys to three gates hidden in here, and the clues have to be stuff that he loved. So a lot of people like me have to know all about the '80s to hunt for the egg."

    “How long has this been going on?”

    “For years now. Nobody has found the first key yet.”

    “And you what? Watch movies from the ‘80s? Listen to the music? Read his favorite books? Play old video games?”

    “It‘s even bigger than that. Because of the contest, the entire world is obsessed with the ‘80s. The clothes and hairstyles are considered cool again.”

    “Really? Well, I gotta get the hell out of here then. Thanks for showing me this, Wade. How do I log out?”

    “You’re leaving already? Don’t you want to…Oh, my god! You said you were from 2011? And you’re in your 40s, right?”

    “Well, just barely…”

    “So you actually lived through the ‘80s?”

    “Afraid so. High school class of 1988.”

    “That’s awesome! You gotta tell me all about it, Kemper.”

    “Kid, why would you want to hear about that? You’re sitting here with enough computer power to download everything from the collected works of Shakespeare to the entire run of

    and you want to hear about the ’80s? Just for a contest?”

    “I love the ’80s. It was the coolest time ever!”

    “Uh, not really. In fact, I think the ’90s beat the shit out of them. That not worrying about the Cold War thing was a relief and the music was a lot better. Plus we got to wear flannel. That was fun.”

    “But… you got to play the old video games in the actual arcades, and you saw the first generation of home computers come out. Plus, music videos and John Hughes movies and Rubik’s Cubes and Michael Jackson’s Thriller album and….”

    “Yeah, Wade. I lived through it all. I remember when MTV played music videos and when Eddie Murphy was funny. But you’re making me sad, kid.”

    “Why?”

    “Lemme tell you a story, Wade. About ten years after I got out of high school, an old buddy I had stayed in touch with had a birthday bash and invited a bunch of us that used to run around together. So we’re at his house drinking and playing cards just like the old days and catching up and playing ‘Remember when?”. It was a lot of fun, but we’d been listening to hair metal and classic rock all night, and at one point, I was flipping through the CD’s.”

    “Actual CD’s! Not downloads?”

    “Hell, I’m so old even my post-high school stories are dated now. Yes, Wade, real CD’s. Anyhow, I found a new Foo Fighters album, and I put it in. And this one guy made a face and asked me why I had taken the Guns-n-Roses out. And I said something like the nostalgia had been fun but I needed something from that decade. Being completely serious he said that he didn’t know how I could listen to that stuff, and that he still listened to the same exact music we did in high school. He had just replaced his old cassettes with CD’s. The guy had completely managed to miss grunge and was perfectly happy with the same play list in 1998 that he’d been listening to in 1988. And that was one of the saddest things I ever heard, Wade.”

    “But maybe he just really liked that stuff.”

    “I liked it too, once upon a time. And I can still belt out a pretty good version of Relax when Frankie Goes to Hollywood comes on the radio, but it was a certain time and place. Now it’s done. I find it depressing that someone of Gen X would want to be stuck there and never moved on to anything new. But it got worse after that, Wade. Because we got older and then the media started catering to us by going for nostalgia trips on everything from trying to remake the

    TV show to shitty movies like

    and

    to the goddamn

    . I’m tired of it in 2011, Wade. I don’t want a new Indiana Jones movie, I want the NEXT Indiana Jones. But no one is working on that because all of us got obsessed with regurgitating our childhoods over and over.”

    “That is kind of sad, Kemper.”

    “What’s even sadder is seeing it happen to a generation that didn’t even live through it. When I was a teenager, I got sick to death of baby boomer nostalgia and there’d be these kids my age who tried to be like damn dirty hippies by wearing tie-dye shirts and going to listen to Grateful Dead tribute bands. They were nostalgic for an era that wasn’t even theirs, and I always thought it was a waste. Don’t be like that, Wade. You seem like a nice kid. Don’t sit here watching

    reruns and playing

    and making jokes about Ewoks. That was then. This is now. It’s your time and you should be out there trying to find the stuff that will become part of your own memories of growing up, not rehashing ours.”

    “Gee, Kemper. That’s a really good point. You’ve opened my eyes. Thanks a lot.”

    “You’re welcome, Wade. By the way, what the hell was this prize that was so good that it got the entire world doing the safety dance again?”

    “Oh, the winner gets the controlling interest in Halliday’s company and his personal fortune which is about $240 billion dollars.”

    “Did you say $240 billion? Dollars?”

    “Yes, so how about we log off. Maybe I’ll take a walk and see if I can find this girl I like. I’ve been…”

    “Screw that. Fire this rig up, Wade. Put on some Def Leppard and find me a pair of acid washed jeans and some high top Reeboks. Let’s start looking for clues. For $240 billion I’ll live through the ‘80s again.”

    **************************************************

    I didn’t actually hate this book. It did a lot of very clever stuff regarding an entire virtual universe. And for a member of Gen X, it was a fast and fun romp down memory lane. It was kind of like

    meets the

    movie.

    But I’ve got a personal pet peeve against people trying to live in the past and since this book is nostalgia porn*, the basic premise did rub me the wrong way. The idea that the kids of the 2040s are just watching episodes of ‘80s TV shows and playing Donkey Kong really kind of depressed me.

    *

    I might have been able to get past it a little easier if at least one of the kids said something like, “Jesus, I hate this ‘80s bullshit. I can’t wait until his freakin’ contest is over so I can live in the here and now.” But instead all of them treat it like it’s the greatest entertainment ever. So even though a few post ’80s things like

    or the

    movies get mentioned, we’re supposed to believe that nerd pop culture reached a zenith in the ’80s and nothing worth geek obsession happened between 1990 and 2040? Sorry, but that seems kind of unlikely and the kind of wishful thinking that an aging Gen Xer would write as he pines for his glory days.

  • Melissa McShane

    ETA: At the risk of getting this more attention by editing it, I'm no longer responding to comments made on this review. It's four years old, and while I stand by what I wrote, I'm not interested in discussing it, either positively or negatively. And I'm really glad they made it into a movie.

    So disappointing. The premise of a treasure hunt inside a gigantic immersive online environment is interesting. I like the idea of the people of 2044 being fixated on '80s culture for clues to solving the pu

    ETA: At the risk of getting this more attention by editing it, I'm no longer responding to comments made on this review. It's four years old, and while I stand by what I wrote, I'm not interested in discussing it, either positively or negatively. And I'm really glad they made it into a movie.

    So disappointing. The premise of a treasure hunt inside a gigantic immersive online environment is interesting. I like the idea of the people of 2044 being fixated on '80s culture for clues to solving the puzzle. The execution simply doesn't live up to the promise. The writing goes like this:

    INFODUMP

    BIGGER INFODUMP

    ...and so forth. I honestly don't know who the intended audience is. The author overexplains all the '80s references as if he expects readers to be too young or too disconnected from geek culture not to get them, but my experience with SF fandom is that no element of fandom, however old, ever completely dies out; all of us old farts who were teens in the '80s (and, interesting fact, the creator of the book's treasure hunt has the same birth year I do) make sure the young sprouts experience all the golden oldies. This is a first novel, and I make allowances for first novels, but this stretches my tolerance quite a bit.

    More difficult for me to get past was the poorly-conceived dystopian future from which the story arises; to the bugaboos of environmental destruction, overpopulation, and economic collapse is added the fear of giant, evil corporations. This despite the fact that the guy who set up the enormous online multiverse AND created the treasure hunt did so by creating an enormous corporation of his own. His online creation is lauded (in one of those massive infodumps) as being so egalitarian because they don't charge anything for access, just for the things you buy inside it, but the corporation couldn't have set it up in the first place without needing a grundle of cash. (My computer programmer friends will fall on the floor laughing at the idea that all of those virtual items people buy are pure profit for the company because they "don't cost anything to make.") Every time I started to get interested in the story, I came up against some background element that only made sense in a tautological way--it is because it's said to be so.

    But what really killed it for me, what caused me to finally give up about halfway through, has always been a deal-breaker for me in any work of speculative fiction. I don't like books that seem to exist independently of the great body of work that has explored the same issues or ideas. In this case, it's as if the author has never heard of Tad Williams'

    or (despite the hero's homage to Stephenson)

    and

    . These books (I except Stephenson's more recent book

    because it was released the same year as

    ) raised and evaluated issues with virtual reality, and yet

    does a lot of unnecessary reinventing of the cybernetic wheel. And yes, I do think this is a valid criticism; science fiction is interconnected to a degree that trumps any other genre, except possibly experimental literary fiction. There's an expectation that readers will be familiar with concepts raised elsewhere and have more than a passing familiarity with other SF novels.

    doesn't do much more than revisit ideas that other authors have explored, and the addition of a high-tech fantasy quest (an admittedly very cool idea) isn't enough to elevate it beyond the ordinary.

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