Ready Player One is a modern YA novel written for adults to relive their childhood memories. Paying homage to 80s pop culture via arcade games, retro video games, comics, pen and paper adventure games, well-loved cartoons, movies, TV series and sitcoms, etc, almost all of it is in here. I was born in the 70s and so all the references in this book brought back loads of fond memories. I wasn't privileged enough to have access to Atari games but arcade games such as Pacman and role-playing games were definitely part of my childhood. I wished there were references to adventure game books though as I used to devour them during my early teens - Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf.
This book grabs you very quickly and the first half was really fast-paced as we followed the first person narrative of main protagonist, Wade Watts and his avatar Parzival, in solving the first riddle of the late James Halliday’s contest to find the Easter egg, which will lead to the latter’s vast fortune that he left in his will. It was fantastic fun and then the story suddenly shifted to YA romance and this was where it fell a bit flat for me. Fortunately, this romance arc moved along fairly quickly and we're back in action.
While the ending was fairly predictable, Wade did something about two-thirds into the book which was quite unexpected and clever. Despite its predictability though, the climax was at a level of awesome straight out of geek heaven.
What made it fall short of being amazing enough to warrant 5-stars? It is the characters, generally. As far as I'm concerned, the book was mainly carried by the cool references to 80s pop culture and the quest-like plot, which kids like me who grew up playing quests absolutely loved. There isn’t much character development at the end of the day. As a matter of fact, I find the Wade's mastery of skills and memorization of requisite information to solve the puzzles border on being ridiculous. Or maybe that is what happens to a socially reclusive geek.
Here is where I need to make mention of the social commentary in this book. Fun and games aside, Ready Player One does hammer in a very important point. The OASIS was a form of escapism which ultimately masked what was actually imprisonment to a fake existence. Any form of happiness one gains being plugged into this virtually generated utopia is not reality. Perhaps I need to make another point and that is the destruction of the planet or rather the blatant exploitation of resources made available to the human race to the point that it can no longer support our survival the way we wanted it to. This can very well happen in the nearer than expected future.
What else is real? The antagonist in this book represents the evils of corporate capitalism; those who will undertake whatever means possible to further their control over the human race. And with everyone’s dependency on OASIS, nothing serves them better than to find the Easter egg, win the contest and have access to the multi-billion inheritance left behind by Halliday and have final control over the OASIS, or in other words, humanity. On a slightly more fun note, the antagonist in Ready Player One also reminds me of one of my favourite films from the 90s. A bunch of corporate lackeys called the Sixers whose OASIS avatars all dress and look alike. Which brings to mind:
You can choose to read this book for pure enjoyment in reliving the 80s, or you can choose to allow the lesson it contains break the control that gaming can have over your life. And even to open your mind in approaching virtual reality to what it truly is; that it is artificially created and at the end of the day, you need to come back to face what is real in your life.