Author: Ernest Cline
Pages: 374 (paperback)
Published: August 18th 2011
Published by: Crown Publishers.
It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.
Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to" win." But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.
A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?
Wade lives in a digital world, spending the huge majority of his time escaping into the virtual reality of Mass Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game OASIS. He goes to school there, and he spends almost all his spare time looking for the answer to the first clue to a treasure hunt left by the creator of OASIS. The one which will means whoever reaches the end inherits his fortune.
I was very much looking forward to this book. The premise is different, and it intrigued me for this reason. Humanity spends much of its time jacked into OASIS - a MMORPG of massive, world-wide proportions. People have more a life in the digital world than they do in reality. And who can blame them?
You can be whoever you want to be, and travel to any fantasy world that has been built. Upon reading that this included Middle Earth and Discworld among others I instantly found myself fervently wishing that it was actually possible because that would be beyond cool. I loved all the geeky references throughout the book, though I'm not really into video games so a lot of those passed me by. Still, I loved when I recognised a reference. But most of the television and music references were based in the 80s and while I was born in the 80s, I didn't grow up in them so almost all of that passed me by. I think I would have enjoyed this book so much more if it was taking me back to my youth in a way it probably does for slightly older readers.
The characters were all nice enough, but I never really got attached to them. This may be because I never felt they were ever really in any danger because most of the action takes places with their OASIS avatars rather than the people themselves. The central character in particular - Wade/Parzival - never really clicked with me and often I ended up liking the people he interacted with more than I liked him. Something just fell a bit flat, possibly because his whole life was OASIS and this isn't something I can relate to. While this is true for the other characters too, them not being POV characters lessens the effect somewhat I think: you don't see the way this (what basically amounts to) addiction does to them in the same way as you do him.
I loved the first section of the book, with it zipping along at a nice enough pace to keep you reading. However, in the second and third the pace slows a little to build the story somewhat. It was still an easy read, and I was interested enough to want to know what was going to happen, but something not quite tangible just wasn't present for me. The ending was very well done, though there was never really much tension for me - it always seemed like a foregone conclusion so I was never really worried about what was going to happen to any of the characters or what the ending was going to be. Regardless of this fact, I wanted to know how the ending was reached and enjoyed the ride getting there.
A fun read which I'm sure will be incredibly nostalgia-inducing for many people.