When I first heard about the upcoming Ready Player One, I was excited but hesitant. A story that is based around nostalgia for a certain time period (here, the 1980s) can be tricky. Things can go either very well or very poorly.
I was barely a chapter in, though, when I realized that author Ernest Cline had everything under control. Ready Player One grabbed me and didn't let go, and the 80's nostalgia was both integral to the plot and perfectly handled.
The story itself is not a new concept: a super-rich guy dies and leaves clues within his creation that could lead the intrepid to his fortune. The Westing Game, a childhood favorite of mine, features the exact same story (more 80's nostalgia, perhaps?). What is unique is the setting - OASIS (the internet turned virtual reality world) - and the rules of the world that govern "game play" and the search for the fortune itself.
Our faithful narrator is Wade (gamer tag Parzival), a high school student who devotes all of his time to hunting for famed OASIS creator (and recluse) James Halliday's fortune. Born decades after the 1980's, this kid spends all of his time obsessively watching movies and TV shows and playing video games that would probably have been considered passe if Halliday hadn't built his contest around them. Instead, after deciphering a clue that has remained unsolved for 5 years, Parzival suddenly finds himself among the most elite players in the world.
Parzival is wickedly smart, pulling connections between references out of his mind with astonishing regularity. But where he falters is with personal communication. There is, of course, a message here - as we increasingly spend our time online, our inter-personal relationships can suffer. But for Z (as his friends call him), determining who is actually your friend when you're all fighting for control of billions of dollars is harder than it may seem.
Do you need to be as well-versed in the 1980s as the characters to enjoy this book? No, not at all. I was born at the beginning of the 80s, and I know I'm even too young to fully understand many of the references. But that doesn't detract from the book at all. The details make the book more enjoyable, sure (I laughed out loud at the bit about how Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton were co-presidents of OASIS), but they're not going to hold someone back from loving the fast-paced adventure, sharp humor, and surprisingly well-formed characters (considering the characters are themselves a shadow of their real life counterparts).
If I could give this book 6 stars, I would. Maybe it's time to rethink how I grant stars? 5/5 stars