When I heard Steven Spielberg planned to direct a film adaptation of this novel, I knew I had to read it first.
The premise is fascinating. The year is 2044, and America has gone completely down the tubes. The recession is in its third decade, there isn’t enough food, there’s not enough housing, there aren’t enough jobs – it’s bleak.
Luckily, there exists an open source virtual reality called Oasis. In it, you can be anyone, and it’s literally a universe of possibilities. That is where the majority of people spend their time, spend their money, and spend their lives. It’s an escape from the every day world, a world with which less and less people care to interact.
Our protagonist, Wade Watts, is a teenager who excels in this video game world. In the real world, well, he doesn’t have much going for him. But in the VR world of the Oasis, he’s got great skill, even if not great means.
That is, until the Oasis creator, James Halliday, died. He had no wife, no family, and no heirs, yet he had more money than virtually anyone on the planet. As a lover of pop culture from his own childhood, especially the ’80s video games, Halliday left a puzzle within the Oasis, and whomever solves this puzzle first wins his entire wealth. All of it.
Wade Watts knows he can do it. He knows he can solve this impossible game embedded within thousands of VR worlds. He knows he can overcome the thousands of other competitors. The only question is, can he survive when some of these enemies come after him in the real world? What happens when he deals with real killers?
If you grew up in the ’80s, you will love all the references in this book. If you grew up as a gamer in the ’80s, this is probably a dream come true for you. This is one of those rare books where I think the movie will surpass the novel because of the very visual virtual world it’s based within. In one scene, you may have an X-Wing Fighter flying alongside the Enterprise with Voltron in the background. It’s that insane because in this VR world of Halliday’s, there is no limit. (Although I do have to wonder if copyrights will impede the movie at all …)
That’s not to say the book is perfect. Even though it develops the plot both entertainingly and intricately, it ultimately falls a little flat at the end. I won’t spoil anything, but it ends on a rather predictable note – it’s an ending we’ve seen before. It will be perfect for Hollywood, don’t get me wrong, but for such an imaginative work to end on a bit of a cliche, well, I personally felt disappointed.
That’s not to say I don’t recommend the book – I do! It offers an interesting glimpse into our potential future and doesn’t shy away from how people would probably use such a thing, which, in turn, is offering commentary about our obsession with technology even in the here and now. It is generally well written, very descriptive, humorous, exciting, and fast-paced. However, I think those inclined to ’80s pop culture and those passionate about video games will love it most.