Wednesday, November 06, 2013

What we're reading: Ready Player One

The book we chose to read for November's 10-12 (teen) Book Club was Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. It's been billed as a teen book because all the major protagonists are teenagers, and the teens were intrigued by the premise, but honestly, if you are an adult in your late 30s or early 40s, this is your book.

The action all takes place about 30 years from now. There was a guy named Halliday who grew up in the 1980s and became a game programmer, and then in later life he designed something called OASIS, which is a fully integrated, interactive, immersive virtual reality (MMORPG) that encompasses lands, worlds, planets, multidimensional video games--like the movie Avatar on steroids. Because life in the real world is pretty grim (apparently the economy never recovered from the early 21st century onward, and we know where things are going with global warming, pollution, overpopulation, etc.), everybody pretty much lives in the game. They go to school in the game, they work in the game, they play in the game...gaming is life.

Then, after accumulating billions of dollars, Halliday dies, and instead of leaving his fortune to someone or some organization, he leaves a will in which he explains that there is an "Easter egg" hidden somewhere in OASIS, and whoever finds it will inherit his business (i.e., control of OASIS) and his money. Naturally there are many interested parties, including individuals, teams, and the obligatory nefarious evil corporation, all of whom are trying their best to be first.

The reason I say that this book will best resonate with people of a certain age is that Halliday, a sentimental sort, designed the entire game around his obsessive fixation on all things 1980s--the movies (John Hughes), the TV shows (Family Ties), the music (Rush), the video games, everything is sourced from the '80s. So although I'm sure this book will intrigue younger people, unless they are total '80s geeks (which apparently our book club members are, since more than half of them rated this the best book we ever read for book club!), they may have to do quite a bit of research to understand some of the content. While my school-age memories are more centered in the '70s, I recognized probably 90 percent of the references (partly because I have younger cousins and friends who brought my attention to those things), but it will be the people whose formative years took place from 1980 to 1989 who will get a full measure of delight from this.

And delightful it is--it's full of nostalgia, but it's also dystopia, history, and speculative fiction rolled into one, with action sequences ramping up to the dramatic ending. I adored Cline's pop culture references (the president and vice president of the OASIS board are Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton, who keep getting re-elected because "those old geezers" have kept things on track pretty well over the years). Don't miss this clever and entertaining book--even if you think you are indifferent to gaming (as I am!), you will get a kick out of it, and maybe learn something too.

BPL has this as both a book and an audio book. And the audio book is read by none other than Wil Wheaton! (If you don't know who that is, this may not be the book for you...)


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