In the year 2044 the United States is a bleak wasteland of collapsing cities and third-world poverty, but most people spend their lives in a completely immersive virtual world called the OASIS. In the anonymous world of the OASIS you can be anyone you want to be, travel to other planets, go on fantasy adventures, and play endless games. When the billionaire creator of the OASIS passes away he sends a message to the world that he is leaving his entire estate and control of the OASIS to whomever is the first person to find an Easter Egg he has hidden within the game. What follows is sort of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World meets Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory by way of the Quest for the Holy Grail.
Ready Player One is the first person narrative of a teenage boy named Wade (online handle Parzival) who goes from poverty to worldwide fame when he becomes the first to solve one of the Easter Egg clues. Wade falls in love with Art3mis, his chief rival in the quest and a person he has never met in real life. Wade, Art3mis, and their allies compete against a giant evil corporation that wants to take over the free OASIS and make it a paid service.
If it all sounds a bit like an Eighties teen movie it is because the whole novel is an exercise in Eighties nostalgia. The OASIS creator was obsessed with the decade of the Eighties and based his puzzles and games on Eighties trivia. As a result the world of 2044 is a giant Eighties flashback with no culture of its own. Everyone involved in the Egg hunt becomes an expert in Eighties movies, TV shows, popular music, and video games in order to solve the puzzles that lead to the Egg.
Ready Player One is a first novel and it shows in some plot twists that involve events so unlikely that even Dan Brown would have been embarrassed to use them. Still, the novel is a lot of fun, particularly for readers with lots of useless Eighties trivia stuck in their heads. For readers who enjoy audio books, the audio version is narrated by former child actor Will Wheaton of Star Trek the Next Generation fame. Narrator voice and character have rarely been so perfectly matched.
I am exactly the audience for whom this book was written. I recommend it for anyone who is me or who is exactly like me. Unfortunately there are already too many of us.