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Ready Player One    by Ernest Cline order for
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
Order:  USA  Can
Broadway, 2012 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

While it could easily rest on its laurels for its fast-paced plot, thrilling action, engaging love story, and ultimate virtual quest in a dystopian world carried out by extreme underdogs, Ernest Cline's Ready Player One will be devoured - and re-examined again and again - by anyone who grew up with Dungeons & Dragons, video and computer games (including the early Zork), Monty Python, Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, The Matrix, and Firefly.

Our young hero, orphaned Wade Watts, is the son of teen refugees in a tough future, created by 'The ongoing energy crisis. Catastrophic climate change. Widespread famine, poverty, and disease. Half a dozen wars.' He bunks (only when freezing conditions drive him there) in his harpy of an aunt's trailer's tiny laundry room, high in the stacks (mobile homes held on top of each other by a 'reinforced modular scaffold'). Wade spends most of his time online, in a refuge of his own creation ('My Batcave. My Fortress of Solitude'), a van hidden deep in a mound of abandoned cars.

You see, like his peers, Wade was raised and schooled mainly by the OASIS, 'a massively multiplayer online game that had gradually evolved into the globally networked virtual reality most of humanity now used on a daily basis.' This virtual universe was created by billionaire videogame designer James Halliday. On his death, he left his vast fortune to whoever managed to complete an online quest for his Easter egg, hidden somewhere in the OASIS. And he left clues for the myriad of gunters (egg hunters) who soon devoted their lives to the search ... 'Three hidden keys open three secret gates / Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits'. This quest gave Wade 'a goal and purpose'; it saved him.

The Hunt 'led to a global fascination with 1980s pop culture' but years passed without progress. Then, in 2045, Wade's avatar Parzival acquires the Copper Key. He tells his story in Ready Player One. There are good guys - Halliday's ex-partner Og Morrow, and four gunters who become Wade's close competitors - his friend Aech; brothers Shoto and Daito; and the love interest, celebrity gunter Art3mis, on whom Wade has 'a massive cyber-crush'. And of course there are corporate villains, 'an army of contract egg hunters', the Sixers, despised by gunters. Innovative Online Industries (IOI, the world's largest Internet service provider) intends its Sixers to find the egg first. It plans to start charging a fee for OASIS usage, turning this key resource into 'an overpriced theme park for wealthy elitists.'

It's quite a ride for Wade and his friends, online and off, as IOI and its Sixers will do anything to win - bribe, cheat, threaten and even kill. Hunted inside OASIS and in the real world, Wade is forced to take a dangerous gamble. No longer obsessed with winning, he realizes that he needs to make any sacrifice needed to stop IOI and its 'soulless corporate lackeys' from realizing their goals. Of course he succeeds (with readers cheering him on as he reaches the end game) and receives sage advice from Halliday's avatar. Finally Wade discovers something in the real world worth living for - and it's not about the money.

I haven't been so excited about SF since reading John Scalzi's Old Man's War. You will want to acquire Ready Player One in hardcover, to read and re-read often; this one is the best in many years and way too good to wait for the paperback release!

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