It’s 2044, and Earth is basically in ruins. Collapse of governments, the energy shortage, piracy, vagrancy and homelessness are rampant. Except it doesn’t really matter because nearly everyone spends their days logged into OASIS, the virtual reality of endless worlds where you can be anyone and anything can happen.
When the creator of OASIS, James Halliday, died, he set up a contest: decipher the clues, find the “keys,” make it through the “gates” and the first one will inherit his fortune of billions of dollars. He left the first clue in his video, but no answers. This set off a worldwide craze for everything that Halliday loved, which boils down to basically everything from the 1980s: pop music, movies (both mainstream and cult), TV shows and, most of all, video and role-playing games.
Our main character, Wade, is dirt-poor in real life and not exactly rich in the virtual world either (it takes real money to buy credits in the virtual world, which one needs to level up). But he’s a dedicated gunter (those who spend their lives devoted to all things Halliday) and basically has the Almanac memorized. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s the first one to decipher the clue and find the first key. However, doing that sets off a chain of events in which he will make friends and allies, fall in love, and become the target of a huge corporation that is out to kill him. In real life.
I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. First and foremost, it’s because I was a teenager in the 1980s, and there were very few (mostly gaming) references I didn’t get in this book. And all my favorites (War Games! Ladyhawk! Hitchhiker’s Guide! PacMan!) were in there in some form or another. I’m sure there are others who would like it, but I came away feeling that Ernest Cline’s target audience is those gamers and geeks from the 1980s, the ones who watched the movies over and over, who played Dungeons and Dragons in basements, who spent their free time and allowance in arcades trying to level up on Black Tiger. It makes the story — which is essentially a glorified D&D game — that much more fun. Sure, the ending got a little moralistic (big corporations are bad, and, by the way, guys: logging off and interacting with the real world is a good idea), but by that point, I was so smitten, I didn’t care.
I’ll take my Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster straight up, and power up a game of Joust while listening to Devo, thanks.
Rated: Moderate for language, mostly mild swearing, but there are four instances of strong language.