Ready Player One is a book about the trials of a young man as he tries to solve a puzzle in an attempt to win a ludicrous amount of money, a controlling share in the worlds largest and most elaborate virtual software company and at the same time deny a ruthless corporation the chance to change this virtual world for the worst. James Halliday, owner and creator of the company GSS (Gregarious Simulation Systems) and the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) has passed away and left a challenge in his will. Whoever solves the puzzle will take over the company and inherit his vast fortune. Set in a semi-post-apocalyptic world of over-population, food shortages, poverty and anything else that could happen in the future, most people escape into their alternate existence in the OASIS, which is at threat from IOI (Innovative Online Industries) as they attempt to win control of GSS and monetise everything that they can to extract the most profit from it that they can.
At times exciting and thrilling, you are compelled to turn the pages whilst at others, it feels distant and forced. Loads, and I mean loads, of retro reference to 80’s music, TV and film, which is great for me as I can actually remember these things, but it does get a bit much at times, with more references than story/description happening.
The characters are hard to define as they are split between their real persona (which we get very little of other than our main protagonist, Wade/Parzival) and their online OASIS avatar, which is where we spend the majority of our time, which are made up of what they want to look like, what they want to act like. Even with this dichotomy it isn’t really that much of a split narrative, I would put it at 75/25 OASIS/Real life. As the majority of the action/story takes place in the virtual world it can get a bit much that all these amazing things are possible, and Cline does hold some of these things back for a while as our protagonist isn’t sufficiently rich, either virtually or real, to upgrade/buy the amazing objects available. But once this hurdle has been overcome it detaches itself even more from reality, leaving only the imagination to limit what goes on. It is at this point that the story loses some balance, loses some of the weight or seriousness of what is happening. It does recapture this balance towards the end but it had already lost something that was created in the first part of the book.
A decent threat and premise make this a good read, and I can imagine the film, due out in 2018, will make full use of the wild imagination and virtual worlds that are at their disposal. Whether they can make it sufficiently in touch with reality and not untethered to anything remains to be seen.