Geek is chic (or so I’ve heard, but maybe that’s just in my own circles), or to put it in an even better perspective, “Geek used to be a four-letter word; now it’s a six-figure salary.” I wish I could take credit for that quote, but I read that on an Internet forum some years ago. But with the prevalence of sites like ThinkGeek, the popularity of such pop-culture figures as George Takei and Wil Wheaton, or even the fact that “The Big Bang Theory” is one of the top-rated shows on television, it’s hard to deny that Geek has gone mainstream. I mean, look at that; I even capitalized the dang word!
Ready Player One is a Geek’s dream, a throwback to all the things that make us who we are. It references comic books, video games, anime, manga, and music from the 1980s, without irony or derision. The main characters are plugged into something called the OASIS, which is a virtual reality world where some folks choose to spend most of their lives. Their quest in the book is to solve a years-old videogame contest by trying to find easter eggs hidden throughout the OASIS, and if anything I’ve written so far (especially if you know what I mean by easter eggs), then this is the book for you. And if, like me, you’re close to your 40s, then this book will resonate far more with you, since a lot of the pop-culture references here are going to be from your childhood.
The book is flat-out fun, too. Parzival is our narrator, and he represents the group of gamers who are trying to find the aforementioned easter egg, which in turn will grant him untold riches and fame, and even ownership of the OASIS. He’s a socially awkward kid who dreams of being better than what he is in the real world, and the OASIS and the promise of those rewards is what drives him through the story. He’s fighting against a corporation that would like to find that same easter egg, since ownership of the OASIS would equate to more riches for that corporation. And it’s so damned easy to root for Parzival and his friends over the course of this book.
I had heard a lot of good about this book before reading it, and I knew I was setting myself up for a huge disappointment if it didn’t pay off in the end. But the story flowed well and had me caught up in the lives of the main characters, all while peppering me with nostalgia for all the things I remember as I was growing up. I was sucked up like dirt in a Hoover, but I was smiling the whole time. The book ain’t perfect (some of the plotting was left up to random encounters, and there were a few moments where I found myself thinking, “Well, that’s going to show up later in the story, that’s for sure”), but the storytelling, characterization, and setting were all my thing. Just last night, I was relating to my wife how a friend, who just turned 43 and talked about going from being the answer to life, the universe, and everything to being prime, was “my people,” and Ernest Cline belongs to that rank, too. So if you know what I mean by any of those references, find this book, and read it. You won’t be disappointed.