Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One has been wildly popular as crossover science fiction–that is, science fiction that is enjoyed by both adults and young adults alike. Gamers and “nerds” who lived through the 1980s will appreciate the many (many) ’80s pop culture and gaming references, and young adults will love the tech-savvy teenage protagonists and the novel’s kids-against-the-establishment mentality. It’s so well loved, in fact, that it’s being made into a movie.
Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian United States, in the year 2045. Energy, food, employment, and housing are in short supply. The country is crowded, and its citizens are living in poverty and misery. For many of them, their one happiness is the virtual reality game OASIS. People spend hours in the OASIS, exploring, socializing, playing games, even going to school. For Wade Watts, the OASIS is home.
When James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, dies, he leaves behind a video with a message. He has hidden an egg in the OASIS, and the first person to solve the puzzles, gather the three keys, and find the egg will inherit his multibillion-dollar fortune. But the egg is extremely well hidden. In fact, years pass without anyone acquiring even the first key.
Wade–known online as Parzival–devotes all of his energy toward learning everything he can about ’80s pop culture. He must find the egg and beat the Sixers, the corrupt employees of an enormous corporation hell-bent on finding the egg and assuming power of the OASIS. He is helped in his quest by the least likely of all people–his top competitors, Art3mis and Aech–even though their real-life identities are total mysteries to him.
Ready Player One is a highly detailed, moderately paced race chock full of references and name dropping. If you’re not a fan of the ’80s (or even if you are), you may find this tedious. But if you can get past the endless allusions, you’ll find a surprisingly diverse cast of characters and a funny, heartfelt science fiction adventure that’s sure to steal any gamer’s heart. And if you’re not a gamer, well, don’t be afraid to give it a chance! (When it comes to gaming, I’m completely clueless, but I really enjoyed this one.)
Oh, and another tip: try the audiobook. It’s read by Wil Wheaton, and it’s fantastic.