In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.
The year is 2044 and the world is an unpleasant and grim place. Famine and poverty are rampant, and to escape the bleakness of real life most people choose to instead enter the world of OASIS.
Let me explain OASIS – this is a virtual world that is very elaborate and realistic,and it contains multiple planets and landscapes. It was created in main part by a man named James Halliday, the ultimate lonely computer geek, who was obsessed with the 1980’s. Halliday died some time before the start of this story but had stated in his will that his vast fortune would go to the person who could find three magical keys hidden in OASIS, pass the portals associated with them, and then find the ultimate prize – the hidden egg. Over the years many people have searched for these magic keys and gates but none have prevailed. Those who search call themselves gunters. Also at play is a villainess corporation called IOI led by a man named Sorrento – who’s agents searching for the egg are called Sixers.
The main protagonist of this story is an 18 year old named Wade Watts. Wade lives in abject poverty with his uncaring and cruel aunt. Because Wade’s life is so grim, like so many others he spends almost all of his time in OASIS. It’s where he goes to school and it’s in OASIS where he meets his friends – avatars named Aech and Art3mis. Because everyone he meets via OASIS is an avatar, it’s hard for anyone to distinguish friend from foe.
Because of his real world lack of money and help, Wade has few powers and weapons for his avatar (which he named Parzival, a takeoff of Percival the Knight which was already taken.) Even with this disadvantage, because of his intelligence and his obsession with anything Halliday or 80’s related he is able to figure out how to find the first key – the copper one, and figures out how to pass that first gate. The race is on, with other gunters and the Sixers in hot pursuit. The future of OASIS is at risk because Sorrento intends to start charging money for the use of OASIS, which would keep so many offline and unable to access it. And this competition poses real life dangers for the players as well.
This is really a quest novel in the grand tradition of great fantasy literature. We have obstacles to overcome and evil-doers to defeat, and “magic,” albeit computer generated, along the way.. There is plenty of action in this book and you will be turning the pages eagerly to read what happens next.
One of the (many) things that makes this book so wonderful are all the 80’s references, especially to the video games and music and movies that so many of us fondly remember.
Note – don’t worry if you weren’t or aren’t a big video game player or don’t remember a lot about the 80’s – if you are it might only add to your enjoyment of this novel but anyone can follow along. The story is both innovative and old-fashioned and it should appeal to anyone who loves to lose themselves inside a good novel.
At heart, this is a book for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider or a geek, and for those of us who love to read. I haven’t fallen in love with a book like this in a long time and I hope it gets the recognition and readership that it deserves. As an added plus, and without giving away any spoilers, there is an interesting twist of sorts at the end, that poses an ethical dilemma for anyone wielding power over OASIS.
Highly recommended. Just a magical book with a cast of characters that you will really care about. Even though this takes place in the year 2044, the sense of nostalgia and the world created will take you back in time to the way you felt when you were 18. I promise.