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Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Crown Publishers, 375 pages

Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Ernest Cline has worked as a short-order cook, fish gutter, plasma donor, elitist video store clerk, and tech support drone. His primary occupation, however, has always been geeking out, and he eventually threw aside those other promising career paths to express his love of pop culture fulltime as a spoken word artist and screenwriter. His 2009 film Fanboys, much to his surprise, became a cult phenomenon. These days Ernie lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, their daughter, and a large collection of classic video games. Ready Player One is his first novel.

Ready Player One Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

Scientists have noted that by the time the average student graduates from high school, they've spent as much time playing computer games as they have studying for their courses. In school you master your coursework and (hopefully) learn how to learn. So what are gamers becoming experts at?

Maybe they're learning the skills needed to save the world.

Welcome to 2044 and a gritty dystopia born of economic and ecological collapse. It's a world so grim that humanity spends all its time online with VR visors and haptic gloves, in a nice shiny virtual world called OASIS (for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). The brainchild of gaming and VR genius James Halliday, "a god among geeks, a nerd über-diety" on par with "Gygax, Garriott, and Wozniak," OASIS contains thousands of planets where people not only party but work and go to school.

With his best friend and business partner Ogden Morrow, Halliday made billions running Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS), the most successful game company ever. They split up over OASIS, because Ogden saw it as dangerously addictive, "a self-imposed prison for humanity", and he may have been right. Halliday made OASIS free, and completely anonymous. Soon enough, humanity had taken to the game universe rather than try and fix their own reality.

Then Halliday died and left his vast fortune to the person who could solve a series of puzzles he'd hidden inside OASIS:
"Three hidden keys open three secret gates
Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits
And those with the skill to survive these straits
Will reach The End where the prize awaits."
Reach the final, pass its test, and you'll find a special Easter egg hidden by Halliday. Once you have it, you have the inheritance.

The search for Halliday's egg affected life on Earth more than any event before it. People devoted their lives to hunting it. The search demanded tireless research into pop culture from Halliday's youth: films and cartoons from the 70s and 80s, and video games from the 80s and early 90s. Thanks to Halliday, retro culture permeated the modern world and stayed permanently.

Enter young Wade Owen Watts, orphan and dedicated teenage gamer, whose knowledge of old Dungeons and Dragons modules leads him to the first challenge: beating the undead lich king from "Tomb of Horrors" at dusty arcade game "Joust," and then successfully recalling dialogue from the movie War Games. Wade's discovery earns him world-wide notoriety, as well as the avaricious attention of GSS's rival, Innovative Online, a thoroughly evil organization that would do horrible things, like charge for access to OASIS, if they actually found Halliday's egg. And they're willing to kill to get what they want.

Ready Player One is a feast for fans of late 20th century American pop culture: you'll find plenty of references to Pac-Man and various other arcade and console games. The story takes a while to get rolling, as Cline lets Wade introduce the world, but its measured pace and easy-to-spot villains and heroes also make the book an excellent entry-level sf novel for more mainstream readers.

Most of all, Ready Player One is pure gamer wish fulfillment. It's the chance for grown up geeks, nerds, etc., to turn the tables on everyone who ever told them that doing the things they loved was a waste of time. "Someday," you can tell all the naysayers, "This could save the world!"

Copyright © 2011 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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