It’s the near future (2050 or so) and pollution and economic downturn are the order of the day. A lot of people spend most of their time in The O.A.S.I.S. (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), a virtual reality “Matrix” that evolved from a MMORPG. You can go dungeon-raiding in The O.A.S.I.S. but you can also attend public school classes there, or work a tech support job from a virtual cubicle, or even spend your time teleporting or flying between planets themed for every major speculative fiction world ever created.
The novel begins with the announcement of the death of Jim Halliday, the creator of The O.A.S.I.S., from a fight with cancer. Jim has no heirs, and has left his multi-billion fortune to whomever can solve the riddles he has hidden within the hundreds of virtual planets in The O.A.S.I.S. and complete the quest for his Easter Egg. In order to be competitive in this quest egg hunters (‘Gunters’) spend years obsessing on all the things Halliday loved to gain an insight into the nature of the quest, as a result all of the movies, TV shows, music, and especially video games of the 1980s are now what everyone talks about.
The protagonist is Wade, a high school senior who attends public school in The O.A.S.I.S. and spends his time watching Blade Runner, playing classic arcade games, and trash-talking other gunters. This keeps him out of the hair of his aunt, who only keeps him around in the stacked trailer he lives in for the food vouchers she gets for being his caretaker. As the stakes in Halliday’s Easter Egg hunt increase, so does the danger. There’s a group of bad guys out there who are willing to kill anyone who stands in their way in The O.A.S.I.S. or the real world, and Wade (aka Parzival) is about to enter their radar.
I listened to the audiobook version narrated by [Wil Wheaton], who was absolutely perfect speaker for this book. I thought the neo-80s gimmick would get old after a while, but the way that the author’s love of the pop culture of his youth mixed with the dystopian reality of the current day is more compelling than I anticipated. Wade and his allies are well realized, but the antagonists are a bit cookie cutter, but given the source material of most of the games, movies, and shows referenced herein I would expect no less. The book is hilarious, think “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” meets “The Matrix” meets “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” with all of the humor from “The Martian”.
Being a child of both the 80s and the 90s I had a lot of nostalgia hits here, but the most intriguing ideas revolved around the development of The O.A.S.I.S. and how primitive virtual worlds such as W.O.W. and Second Life can evolve into such a simulation as technology like the [Oculus Rift] evolves. I will hopefully be able to attend a concert, a lecture, or a liturgy on the other side of the world from my home someday soon. That sense of the past and the future hitting you simultaneously is one the most affecting parts of the novel.
Stephen Spielberg is currently filming Ready Player One and you’ll hear all about it soon enough if you haven’t already. I suggest you go ahead and read the book right now and get ready to have your (virtual) socks knocked off!