Game On

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
Paperback, 374 pages, Published April 5th 2012 by Arrow Books (first published August 16th 2011)

It is 2044 and earth has been wasted by the depletion of fossil fuels and ignoring the impact of climate change which has resulted in widespread poverty and social inequality. A place of solace is the online virtual reality world OASIS that provides education, work, retail and social opportunities. OASIS is owned by GSS and created by James Halliday, who when he dies announces in his will that hidden in OASIS is an Easter Egg. That the person who finds the egg will inherit the company GSS and his personal fortune. Halliday provides a cryptic clue and the establishment of an online scoreboard to monitor who progresses through each stage. For five years no names appear on the scoreboard.
Matt Watts a teenager living in the stacks, which is mobile homes stacked on top of each other, is dirt poor, making average grades through high school, ignored by girls but a devotee of trying to unravel Halliday’s mystery. He is a member of a group known as Gunters, gamers who are on the quest to unlock Halliday’s clue. Gunters spend their time examining Halliday’s life in detail and his love of all things 80s. They watch the movies, listen to the music, play the games and immerse themselves in 80s culture.
It is not only individual Gunters seeking to uncover the answer so is IOI, a rival corporation, led by Nolan Sorrento. OASIS is a highly profitable entity and for IOI ownership will mean a monopoly in the virtual reality world and a licence to print money.
When Wade, who plays under the name Parzival, unlocks the first clue all hell breaks loose. Wade finds that with success there are benefits and negatives. He now has merchandise endorsements enabling a steady stream of income and threats to his life. He finds himself in a race against other gamers and IOI, who are more than willing to murder to get what they want.
I had been pondering reading this for a long time and I am glad I did. There is a lot to like about this book and there is some areas that are not just quite there.
First of all the 80s culture references are everywhere, they come and thick and fast and are wonderful if you are going on a nostalgia stroll. After a while I did find all the references overwhelming and I am sure I missed a couple here and there. In some instances the references did not really seem relevant to what was going on and some were too USA centric for me to fully appreciate. They are small quibbles and do not negate the amount of knowledge Cline has for the 80s.
Wade as the protagonist is an interesting character but is also too superhuman at times. He starts off as this poor geeky teenager in high school, struggling to find enough credits to level up too being so well off he has three virtual cars and real almost impenetrable home. There is one section in the book where he proclaims he has used so much ammo it is going to cost him a small fortune to restock. He begins to come across as a bit of a jerk if not for his loyalty to his friends. There is another part where Wade is struggling to discover any clues to continue but he manages to daringly hack into IOI with no assistance and set up the showdown. There were times when I was not convinced by Wade’s character.
The rest of the major players are well rounded and do work. The love interest Art3mis has her own personal issues and wants to use the anonymity of OASIS to hide her flaws. Aech is perhaps the best and most underutilised character. There is a large slab of the book where Wade and Aech have just drifted apart because of their falling out over the quest to find the egg.
Cline does raise some important issues in the book about social equality, corporations and monopolies but these are skimmed over as the focus is on resolving the quest. There is a brief discussion between Wade and Art3mis about what they would do if they had all this money but it does not really go anywhere. There are some great ideas but they are never fully explored.

There is a great deal going for this book and I can see why a movie has been made. I really did enjoy the read but I don’t know it just did not press all the buttons. 
For those who are keen the movie trailer has a number of easter eggs that lead to a website and I am sure you can go on your own quest. You can also check out the author's website

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