In a grim, resource scarce near-future, people around the world spend most of their time in OASIS; an online, virtual reality universe. But when the owner and creator of OASIS passes away, he leaves behind a challenge. Find the egg he left hidden somewhere in OASIS and inherit his personal fortune, along with his controlling share of the company that runs OASIS.
When Wade Owen Wilson stumbles upon the location of the first of the three keys needed to find the egg, he quickly finds himself in a race against time to find the egg before the sinister ‘Innovative Online Industries’ does. This corporation plans to further monetise OASIS once they gain control of it; putting it out of reach of the impoverished (which is basically the majority of the world’s population at this point).
Ready Player One gives readers a thoughtful mixture of two settings that will probably never go out of style in fiction; virtual reality and grim future settings. Our protagonist is Wade Owen Wilson; a seventeen year old ‘Gunter’. ‘Gunter’ is the term for someone who is hunting the egg. Wade’s goal to get a better life for himself is hampered by the fact he lacks the in-game currency to travel OASIS’s innumerable worlds to hunt for the keys.
A basic rule of fiction is that no matter how clever your future or alternate reality setting is, your audience needs to be able to connect with it. This is something Ready Player One gets right from the get-go. The culture inside the OASIS is basically drawn from online and MMO behaviour with a certain amount of extrapolation. The Gunters, in particular, are very much an internet sub-culture; with their own slang and pop-culture fixation.
This fixation is eighties pop-culture, due to James Halliday’s (the OASIS’s creator) obsession with it. As such, any eighties trivia is a potential clue as to where the keys are hidden. There is a steady flow of eighties info delivered to the reader throughout the book. The only time this gets grating is during the early chapters where the pace is already slow due to all the world building going on.
Wade makes for an excellent protagonist; he is flawed, but relatable. You can appreciate his tough life because he genuinely feels like a product of it. His character development over the course of the novel is both organic and satisfying. Being the first Gunter to find the copper key nets him an OASIS endorsement deal that gets him some funds, allowing him to move to a less impoverished city. However, following sections take great pains to establish all the high tech gear he’s purchased for his new apartment. It all just takes away from the underdog feel of the parts taking place in the real world. Which is a shame because Wade’s plan to get the information he needs for the final showdown is one of the best parts of the book.
While it has some problems with early pacing and Wade suddenly being able to afford whatever the plot requires him to have, ‘Ready Player One’ is an engaging read. Wade is a deep, enjoyable protagonist and his relationships with his fellow Gunters (his friendship with Aech and his romance with Art3mis) are weaved neatly into the main plot.