Wade Watts is your typical high schooler. He goes to school every day and attends classes, eats lunch, takes notes, and tries to avoid the bullies. Except the year is 2044, and the school Wade attends is part of an online virtual reality called OASIS.
Basically everyone has an OASIS account and spends as much time there as possible, since the real world (of course) sucks. I actually almost didn’t continue reading this book after having to sit through multiple pages of Wade explaining how God is a myth, people driving cars destroyed the entire earth, and Republicans ruined the economy. Polemic much? But I’m glad I stuck it out, because after we got done listening to Wade griping about how if only stupid conservatives had agreed to let the government force everyone to drive electric cars the world would be perfect, an actual story emerged and I was totally hooked.
The creator of OASIS, James Halliday, died five years before the story begins, and left behind his company and a ridiculous amount of money. But instead of naming a specific person or entity to be his heir, he left behind a quest and a clue – and the person(s) to solve the quest would inherit everything. Of course, this has led to all sorts of shenanigans and, among other things, created an entire huge group of people who do basically nothing except try to solve the first clue. Wade is one of these people (“gunters”), albeit one who doesn’t feel like he has much chance of success. He’s poor, which means he’s stuck on only a couple of the very basic planets in the OASIS with no opportunities to really get out and explore/hunt for the clue.
Halliday grew up in the 1980’s, and was obsessed with the stuff of his youth. Many of his creations in OASIS reflect this, and most gunters believe that it’s super important to have a thorough working knowledge of all things 80’s culture. This actually gave a really fun dimension to this book, with the futuristic virtual reality balanced with the retro 80’s tidbits.
Of course, it’s no real surprise when Wade has a bit break through in the quest, and things get crazy from there. Although the quest is taking place in a virtual universe, there is a lot of real-life money on the line, and Wade soon finds himself a target to a big company that wants to win the quest so they can take over Halliday’s company, money, and OASIS.
One thing that was cracking me up when I was reading this was that Halliday grew up in Ohio, and eventually headquartered his company in our state capital, Columbus. Hearing Columbus described as a “mecca of technology” totally made my day.
There were some things about this book that kept it from being perfect (beyond the preaching in the first chapter). The pace definitely slowed in the middle, when a lot of the quest action was taking place separate from Wade (who is the narrator as well as the protagonist, so the story always stays with him) and Wade is busy dealing with romantic feelings (booooorrriinnnnggg). The ending felt a little too simple/abrupt – an epilogue would have been really nice, to hear how some of the details got wrapped up. Weirdly, I felt like the message wasn’t clear in this book. I kind of assumed the Cline would be pointing out the importance of embracing real life, etc. – but that didn’t really come through. In some ways, he seemed to act like a virtual future is the only bright one we have.
But all in all, this book was just a fun ride. I was completely glued to the pages, and could hardly read fast enough in some places. I really liked Wade a lot. It seemed like although there tons of references to video games/movies/music/1980’s, it didn’t interfere with the plot, and didn’t deter me from enjoying the book even when it was something I had never heard of. I felt like Wade did a good job describing what I needed to know in order to understand the next part of the story, but without slowing down the plot. It was just a fun rollick of a read, and I intend both to add this one to my permanent collection, and to check out more of Cline’s work. 4/5 and recommended.
PS I originally read about this book many moons ago when Sophie reviewed it. Check out her review here!