Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, 384 pp, RL: TEEN

I remember back in 2011 when Ready Player One by Ernest Cline hit the shelves and started selling and thinking I should read it. A fellow bookseller did and said it was great, but it took almost seven years for me (and my son) to finally read (actually, listen to) Ready Player One. I was at my son's seventh grade back-to-school night and a parent mentioned to the English teacher that her son was reading it and she was concerned about the content. I suggested she read what her son reads and then took my own advice. And, since I clearly live under a rock, I also just learned that it has been made into a movie by Steve Spielberg to be released this month. For those of you who like audio books, Ready Player One is fantastically, perfectly narrated by Wil Wheaton. Wheaton was a child actor (Stand by Me, Star Trek: The Next Generation) is a voice actor (everything from Aqualad to Grand Theft Auto) and adult actor playing a version of himself in The Big Bang Theory, among other things. In a very cool mirror moment in Ready Player One, Wheaton gets to read that he and Cory Doctorow have been voted joint presidents of the OASIS.

While my son definitely enjoyed Ready Player One, I think it really appealed to me (and my husband, especially, who listened along) on a much deeper level. Set in the year 2045, there are infinite references to an already much-referenced decade, the 1980s. I had to keep reminding myself that this book existed well before Stranger Things premiered. The novel opens on Wade Watts, a pudgy, orphaned teenager living with his aunt in the stacks (trailers stacked vertically in scaffolding) of Oklahoma City. The world is close to chaos, gripped by an energy crisis, a poverty (and drug) epidemic, over population and global warming. Most inhabitants spend their days in the OASIS, a virtual reality world (with the most stable currency in the world) where they can work, go to school and do almost anything else you can imagine. This world was created by James Halliday, a painfully shy, brilliant coder and billionaire who worked aspects of his childhood, including a virtual world that mirrored that of his (unhappy) childhood, right down to the pizza place where he went to play PacMan, into this world. Coming of age in the 1980s, Halliday was obsessed with the music, movies, arcade, video and role playing games of the time, detailing this in his journal named after his avatar, Anorak's Almanac. Upon his death, Halliday reveals that he has hidden an Easter egg in the world of the OASIS, with the finder inheriting his fortune.

Wade is a "gunter," someone who spends all his time immersed in the life of Halliday in an attempt to find the egg. Wade even has a printout (a rare thing in a digital world) of Anorack's Almanac and has watched every movie mentioned, listened to every song listed, played every game and read every book Halliday documented. Innovative Online Industries, or IOI, has spent millions of dollars and hours employing highly skilled "gunters" to search for the egg also. When Wade is the first person to find the Copper Key, the first of three clues that lead to the egg, and his name goes up on a scoreboard seen by the world, his life changing dramatically, for better and worse.

Ready Player One is a roller coaster ride through the 80s with Wade reciting lines from War Games and Monty Python and the Holy Grail while finding himself inside a video game he has to play his way out of. Cline does a fantastic job creating a plausible egg hunt with clues that are genuinely complex but reasonably solvable. While the plot becomes predictable at a certain point, it never becomes tired. Wade, playing under the avatar name Parzival, befriends Art3mis (all other spellings were taken), a gunter who has developed a following through her blog, and a virtual romance blossoms (and wilts). Along with Aech, Wade's best friend, and Japanese gunter brothers Daito and Shoto, they become the first five gunters, followed by hundreds of IOI employees, hot on their heels. How they stay one step ahead of IOI, maintain their virtual friendships - or not - and face the challenges of the hunt, is exciting and will definitely make a great movie, which makes sense since Cline is a screenwriter and he co-wrote the screenplay for the movie version of Ready Player One.

Source: Purchased Audio Book

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