Pop quiz! Do any of these statements apply to you?
a) You know the Konami Code by heart, and you fondly remember playing Pac-Man on a cocktail table machine and saying something like, "Move your drink! I need to get the cherry!"
b) Your favorite Newbury Award winner is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.
c) You have a more-than-passing familiarity with a MMORPG. Any MMORPG.
d) You like futuristic dystopian novels with a bit of romance on the side.
If any of these statements apply to you, you're going to love Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I finished it in 36 hours because I could not stop reading it. Imagine this: The year is 2045. Oil ran out a while ago, the economy collapsed, and America is now a sad, ugly, violent place. How do people deal with this harsh reality? By living in OASIS, a MMORPG similar to Second Life. OASIS is so ubiquitous, kids even attend public school through OASIS now.
One day, an unusual announcement goes out over the feeds: James Halliday, the reclusive multi-billionaire creator of OASIS, had died. His fortune and controlling interest in his company will go to whoever can find the three easter eggs he hid in OASIS. The only clues to their location are a rhyming riddle and an encyclopedic almanac of 80s geek culture written by Halliday. Halliday was obsessed with the 80s, the decade when he was a teenager, and he wants the world to share his obsession. Let the games begin! A thriving culture of egg hunters pops up practically overnight.
Essentially, this book is a valentine to 80s geekiness. If you ever loved playing Atari and arcade games, watching John Hughes movies, creating D&D characters, or entering DOS prompts, this novel is going to be a warm, fuzzy nostalgia trip for you. And the storyline never becomes a disjointed geek-rant, because Cline ties the pop culture references together with an intricately imagined and completely addictive plot.
OASIS' rival corporations develop entire departments devoted to finding the egg so they can control OASIS. Meanwhile, the main character, a 17 year old orphan named Wade, hunts alone. Wade has spent most of his life in OASIS, and he obsessively studies the 80s to make sense of Halliday's riddle. As Wade's quest progresses, a powerful corporation turns against him. To stay alive, Wade must unexpectedly leave OASIS and embark upon a dangerous mission in the real world.
I don't want to tell you any more, but I will say that the story builds in small increments that make the quirky characters and fantastical action feel believable. It's easy to suspend disbelief when you know that much of the action takes place in a game. And the tension is intense! Every time I finished a section of the book, I felt like I leveled up, and I had to keep going. Like a really good video game, it's addictive.