This book has a very specific audience in mind, and happily, I’m it! Reading this was a treat.
The book takes place in 2044 and virtual reality has become the only reality. You need to pop off from time to time to eat, but everything else in done online in OASIS. School, work, gaming, love… it’s all on the other side of your headset. Sure, the world outside could crumble at any minute, but as long as you manage not to get stabbed, you’re doing OK.
Wade wants more than access to OASIS. He wants out of the shithole he lives in. He wants money and power and fame and awesome in-game equipment. And out-of-game equipment. And maybe a girlfriend.
And like everyone else, he wants to solve the great OASIS puzzle and win the internet.
James Halliday co-created OASIS and when he died he posthumously announced to the world that he had hidden the ultimate Easter Egg inside the virtual world. The first person to find it wins the controlling rights to OASIS, Halliday’s entire fortune and all the power that comes with it. You will become the most powerful person alive.
The world frantically studies every moment of Halliday’s life to search for clues. Huge databases are compiled to keep track of his favorites movies and bands in order to try and guess where the first clue is hidden.
A huge, evil cooperation is formed to find the Egg so that they can begin charging for OASIS and become the richest and most powerful group on the planet. The regular guys are up against this giant, but no one trusts anyone enough to share all their information. Only one person can win.
Years go by. Nothing happens.
And then Wade solves the first puzzle. And then the evil corporate Sixers try to kill him.
In addition to the awesome gamer plot line, the entire book is a worship of 80’s culture. While OASIS can be modded by anyone, Halliday created his own world to mirror his 80’s upbringing. His video will takes place in a John Hughes movie. Everyone hunting for the Egg is obsessed with the 80’s and Cline covers the book with references to games, music, movies, videos, styles and more.
People have complained that this book doesn’t work because it’s too much of a gamer book or there’s too much 80’s culture and nothing more, but they don’t get it. Of course the book is too much of a gamer book! It’s a GAMER BOOK! That would be like saying A Tale of Two Cities has too much to do with the French Revolution. THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT! And yes, the 80’s love is thick, but again, Cline created a character that created a world based on his love of the 80’s, so of course everyone is going to hunt there for clues. Halliday created what he knew, and the world studies it to try to solve the great puzzle.
I loved everything about this book. I thought the characters were great, the plot was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed the references. I was happy to see a They Might Be Giants lyric used as a password, and I was even happier to know that there were other references I wasn’t catching, but another reader was. If you’re in the target audience for this book, you’re going to find shout outs throughout.
Would a non-gamer like this book? I doubt it. Cline isn’t going to over-explain many things, so I can see a reader getting confused and frustrated and not getting it. I did wonder what young whippersnappers who know little about the 80’s would think about the references, but I think they’d get pulled in. Wade is a teenager and he identifies with Halliday. It works.
The first half of the book is a bit slow, which makes sense. Years have gone by with nothing happening, so it makes sense that things seem almost dull. But once Wade solves that first puzzle, it is madness and the pacing takes off. There are a few moments where you get to stop and catch your breath, but when the characters are frantic, you are frantic. I was happy with the ending. I knew it could only end with one person standing, but I couldn’t figure out how that one person was going to get there. But then things happen and maybe it’s not going to be only one person. But then other things happen and people are dead. What in the hell is happening?
This book gets solid love from me. If I was forced to put together an All Time Favorite Books EVER list, this would be on it. Now I need to get the audio version so Wil Wheaton can read it to me.