Sometimes when books receive great reviews, I’m actually more hesitant to read them. Partly that’s because my taste doesn’t always run to popular tastes, but more than that it’s because I’m always worried that my expectations for the book will be too high. What if this is a perfectly good book that I would have enjoyed reading except that I expected it to Change My Life, and it didn’t? What if all those good reviews ruin any chance the book has of making me happy I read it?
One good thing about getting older is that I’m less likely to worry about those kinds of things. Still, sometimes I hear so much about a book that I put off reading it until those early glowing reviews have faded and I’m confident I can read the book on its own terms, and not the terms set up by the opinions of others.
Last weekend I read one of those books, and I’m happy (and a little relieved) to say that it lived up to all the reviews.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, is set in a dystopian future, but this isn’t the same dystopian future as we’ve seen in other novels and movies. Here most of the action takes place in the virtual world of the Oasis. Humans have retreated to the Oasis as the real world around them becomes more and more unlivable. Inside the Oasis, you can attend school, conduct business, and enjoy more traditional gaming activities, all with an avatar you design to be the person you are, or the person you wish to become.
The basic plot of Ready Player One centers on the quest for the Easter egg left hidden in the Oasis by the creator of this virtual world. In his will, he left his company and his wealth to the first person to find the Easter egg. Our main character, Wade (in the real world—he’s Percival in the Oasis), has devoted his life to the hunt, and this is his story as he encounters others searching for the egg in both the Oasis and real life. Death, betrayal, love, friendship, trust, truth—all of these ideas are addressed in the novel, although the plot and characters are so strong you never feel like you’ve been beaten over the head with “theme.”
Since the Oasis founder grew up in the 1980s, the search for the hidden Easter egg means that everyone has become an expert on that time period. This was the one part of the book that I had a little trouble with—that’s not my favorite decade. In fact, I was teaching high school at that time so most of my 80s knowledge came to me filtered through my students. Also, not surprisingly, most of the quest for the egg involves various video gaming strategies, particularly from some of those early 1980s games. I’m not a gamer, unless you count Bejeweled and Words for Friends, so most of this was merely background noise to me, although I can see how it would be very cool for those who are into the gaming world.
I enjoyed this book very much, and would recommend it to pretty much anyone unless they are absolutely closed to the idea of reading a science fiction novel. You don’t have to be a gamer, or an 80s aficionado—you just have to like a good story about a likeable character trying to achieve something he’s not sure he can do.