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Ready Player One
Reviewed by Peggy Hailey, © 2011

Format: Book
By:   Ernest Cline
Genre:   Science Fiction Pop Culture Nostalgia
Review Date:   August 28, 2011
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

Let me cut right to the chase:

Are you a regular reader of Revolution SF? Do you remember TRS-80s, programming in Basic, that incredibly crappy Atari ET game (that you nevertheless couldn't stop playing), long hours spent at the video arcade wasting your afternoons one quarter at a time, WarGames, Wilma Deering, and long, involved adventures with your friends in imaginary worlds bordered by DM screens and graph paper, risking it all on the roll of a 20-sided die?

If any of this brings back fond memories, get a hold of a copy of Ernie Cline's Ready Player One and dive in.

Yes, right now.

Cline's book is a love letter aimed right at you, and you're going to love it right back.

In the near future, America has slid into a hideous decline: rampant unemployment, high energy costs, an ever-widening gap between the Haves and the Have-nots, greedy corporations -- sound familiar?

There's a lot that the average person doesn't have (and can never get), but what everybody does have is OASIS.

OASIS is a virtual world built by James Halliday (think Bill Gates crossed with Howard Hughes) with free access for all. When Halliday dies without heirs, an announcement goes out to everybody with an OASIS account: Halliday has hidden three keys in his virtual world. The first person to find all the keys and make it through all the gates will win it all: Halliday's billions and ownership and control of OASIS.

The quest for the keys is the basic plot, and Halliday's geekiness and obsession with his teen years (the 80s) allows Cline to wax rhapsodic about games, music, TV, movies, toys, and all of the other pop-culture accoutrements of the time.

The references are fast and furious, and when one hits you just right, it's like a rift just opened in your brain right back to the sights and sounds of your childhood. Amazingly, the reams of pop-culture info manage not to bog the story down.

The quest is the main thing, but there's more going on here, too: a love story, a techno-thriller, a coming-of-age story. There's also a lot of cultural commentary, and, perhaps surprisingly given the awfulness of the real-world setting and the actions of those in search of power, a lot of hope, too.

As disconnected as these people are physically they (and by extension, we) are uniquely qualified to connect. In a world where all appearances are made up, you can't count on what someone looks like. You have to count on who they are.

And if you've spent hours and hours online talking and gaming and bantering and discussing and becoming friends with someone, then details like tall, short, old, young, fat, thin, gay, straight, black, white or blue shouldn't matter. If we can just realize how alike we are, the differences won't matter as much.

It's funny, it's fast-moving, it gets your jokes, and it watches the same TV shows that you do. Why are you still reading this review when you could be reading Ready Player One?


More from RevSF books maven Peggy Hailey's brain is at her site Rampant Biblioholism. Right now she is playing Zork even as we speak, and "xyzzy" still makes her giggle.


 
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