Thursday, August 25, 2011

In the future, the 80s are cool

The 80s were fun years. I was in grade school during this time, and I had fond memories of Saturday morning cartoons and console games. Ernest Cline's debut novel, Ready Player One, brought me back to this wonderful novel. It's not a period novel, contrary to what you might think. It's actually science fiction.

The year is 2044 and the world is, as expected, an economic, environmental, political, and societal mess. As a means of escape, people log in to a virtual world called OASIS, which has been created by James Halliday. OASIS can be likened to a universe. There are different worlds that people can visit. People can go to school, conduct their business, entertain themselves, among others, in OASIS. This virtual meeting place has become so ingrained in the lives of the people that OASIS currency is even more stable than real currency. Also, you can be anyone you want to be in OASIS.

Then James Halliday drops dead and leaves no heir for OASIS. Instead, he tells the millions of denizens of OASIS that this virtual world can be theirs if they find the three keys that are located in the vast OASIS universe. Of course, this game spawns a culture of hunters, called gunters, whose sole obssession is to obtain the keys. For 5 years, gunters have painstakingly studied the life of Halliday for clues and they have also meticulously gone through 80s pop culture, the decade that Halliday was very fond of. This isn't surprising though, as Halliday grew up in the 80s amid Ataris, coin-op games, and other console games.

Ernest Cline with his DeLorean. Love it!

But during one ordinary day, one person finally discovers the first key -- Wade Watts, or Parzival, as he is known in OASIS. However, Parzival would soon learn that finding the first key has its downside, as there would be several professional gunters who would be after him for information, some even threatening his life. It is at this stage that Ready Player One really takes off as a very entertaining and thrilling read.

Cline definitely knows his pop culture. This is evident in the various games the gunters have to go through to get a key and pass through a gate. In the first gate, for example, Wade has to play Joust, one of the very first vector graphic games. And there are so many references to Blade Runner, Atari, Back to the Future, early computers with laughably small RAM (think 16 kB), and the movies of John Hughes.

Ready Player One is one very funny novel, a book that is so refreshing to read because it doesn't take itself too seriously. Yes, Cline is one gifted writer. His descriptions of the various planets in OASIS and the virtual battles are vivid. And Cline has made me recall my favorite console games in the 80s: Pac Man, Galaga, and Pong.

But of course, my all-time favorite game is the one shown below. I can spend hours just playing it.

Read this book if:
  1. You love anything 80s.
  2. You're heavily into gaming.
  3. Most of your waking hours are spent online.


Greg Zimmerman said...

Like you, I grew up in the '80s, so I've been really intrigued by this novel since the buzz has grown. Glad to hear a good review of it - thanks!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Greg! The buzz has merit!

Stepford Mum said...

The 80s were like no other. I'm glad to have lived them, and think I'd enjoy this book despite its sci-fi-ness. My husband can play minesweeper for hours too :)

Peter S. said...

I know, Stepford Mum! Remember the big hair?!