Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
First Published: 2011
Review © 2013 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Virtual Reality, Thriller, Puzzles
Cover Design by Jim Massey
Ready Player One provides a thrilling adventure through virtual gaming environments and a dystopian near future. This is the first novel from Ernest Cline and I can’t believe it took two years for me to discover it.
Ready Player One starts off with a terrific premise: A virtual world known as OASIS has become pervasive throughout the world to the point where even most schools are now taught virtually within OASIS. This has brought fabulous wealth and power to the creator of OASIS. When the creator dies without heirs, he leaves his fortune and control of OASIS to whoever is able to win a virtual on-line contest he created containing a mixture of puzzles and games. For on-line gamers, the contest is irresistible. For a poor orphaned Wade Watts, OASIS is his only escape from the unpleasantness of the real world and he soon becomes completely obsessed with the contest. It also happens that the creator of OASIS grew up in the 1980’s during the dawn of the video game age and has based the puzzles of the contest on trivia from the 80’s.
The story opens 5 years after the start of the contest with no one having solved even the first puzzle. With the difficulty level being obviously very high and the prize so large, many people have teamed up into “clans”. In addition, one of the world’s largest internet service providers, IOI, has hired an army of experienced “gamers” to win the contest in order to gain control of OASIS. This would allow them to replace the current free access with a monthly service fee in order to generate billions in revenue. Thus is born an evil empire. Meanwhile, our young hero, Wade, is one of the dedicated independents who vow to go it alone in the spirit of the contest as envisioned by its creator.
When Wade stumbles upon the solution to the first riddle, the real action begins. His avatar instantly becomes world famous when his name is prominently displayed in first place for the contest showing that he discovered the first key. Wade assumes he can count on the guaranteed privacy of personal information held by OASIS. However, any system can be compromised, especially when an agency has almost unlimited resources. Wade soon finds that his lead in the contest does not just bring virtual danger; it also brings real world danger. When Wade turns down the offer from the evil corporate empire, he finds himself the victim of extreme violence in the real world from which he barely escapes. He ends up on the run in both the real and virtual worlds.
With a combination of fast paced real and virtual action, the story rockets forward under ever higher levels of tension. Wade only has a handful of like-minded independent gamers who he can trust. And even among them, what does he really know about the people behind the avatars?
The characters in Ready Player One are engaging and the villains are well drawn and nasty. As one might expect, Wade manages to find romance in the virtual world. However, eventually he finds that he is going to have to take some chances in the real world and he is going to have to meet some of his allies in the real world. This leads to some entertaining surprises for Wade and highlights the discontinuities between a virtual environment and the real world.
With a combination of virtual adventures and puzzles along with real world action, Ready Player One ends up being a high tension thriller that’s a really fun read and more than hard to put down. I highly recommend Ready Player One for a highly entertaining David versus Goliath plot and a satisfying coming of age adventure in the very near future.