Wednesday 12 June 2013

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline

It is 2044 and the world as we know it is still in decline - there is no sign of a recovery from the recession that began in the beginning of the 21st Century.
For Wade Watts life exists in the stacks - trailer park vans that are stacked up on insecure scaffolding - on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.
To escape Wade drifts off to his hideout and logs into the virtual world of OASIS. Here, under the avatar name of Parzival he can be who and what he wants. This is where his school is and the chat room that he visits is called The Basement. Here he meets up with his best friend Aech.
This virtual world is the creation of the great games designer and programmer James Halliday aka the wizard known as Anorak - and author of 'Anorak's Almanac'. If anyone wanted to know about Halliday's life and times then this was the book to have.
Halliday's death takes the world by surprise - even more so when his will is read. His fortune and gaming rights pass to the player who can find three keys, three gates and rise to the challenges within to prove that they are worthy of taking on that fortune.
On the trail of this fortune is Innovative Online Industries (IOI) who will stop at nothing to gain control of OASIS to make a profit from it. To them, the person who controls OASIS controls the virtual worlds.
Level One sees the first set of clues and the answer lies in Halliday's 80s childhood and the Dungeons & Dragons game that he created. This is where the almanac becomes the handbook or bible that helps Wade to solve the clues.
It is not long before Wade realises that he is not alone in the quest as friends Art3mis and Aech are hot on his tail.
However, he solves the first of the quatrain clues and wakes up to find himself the centre of attention as he tops the scoreboard. And when he drops a hint to his friends they have the top 3 places and then they are joined by two more 'gunters' (that is what the gamers are known as) from Japan.
But what begins as fun turns deadly as the stack he lives in is destroyed by the IOI who are unaware that their quarry is safe in his hideout.

On the one hand this is a geeky book - films like 'WarGames', 'Monty Python and The Holy Grail' and 'The Beastmaster' are all reference points along with bands like Rush and a whole feast of gaming consoles and games like 'Pac-Man'.

Ernest Cline racks up the tension until the grand finale when everything comes together. Wade Watts is a fully rounded character - a loner who feels safe with his online friends. Though they compete against each other they have, also, got to learn how to trust so that they can work together.

First impression is that the book is supposed to have a target audience - but the deeper I got into the book I felt that it was universal. It is one of the best sci-fi/fantasy fiction that I have read in a long time. The quest may be an old fashioned theme but this is played out in an arena that many can identify with - it is that which makes this a satisfying read.

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