Bookshot #122: Ready Player One

Technically, I didn't read this book I listened to it. Yes, Ready Player One marked my first foray into the world Audible and Audio Books and I scored a sweet audio version read by none other than Will Wheaton himself. I wanted to try and finish it before I sat down and watched the movie-- but as it turns out, I tried to watch the movie with the kiddos (Eldest Spawn thought the racing scene in the movie was 'SO COOL' and was very excited by it) and between one thing and another I only saw bits and pieces of the movie- and surprisingly, I didn't really feel the need to sit back down and watch it again- which once again, proves that with surprisingly few exceptions the book is always better than the movie.

The main character of the book is teenager Wade Watts who lives with his aunt in Oklahoma City in the 'stacks' which is a poor district featuring trailer homes stacked on top of one another. He spends most of his time in the OASIS, a virtual reality, fully immersive simulator that many people in the 2040's turn to in order to escape from the daily reality of global warming, overpopulation and depletion of energy resources. The OASIS is both an MMORPG and a virtual worlds and it's currency is the most stable in the world. It was created by tech genius and gaming guru James Halliday, who when he died announced that he had left an Easter Egg hidden inside the OASIS- the first person to find it gets Halliday's entire fortune and control over the corporation that runs the Oasis. 

The book opens five years after Halliday's death and Wade spends most of his time as a 'gunter' operating his avatar Parzival in the Oasis and scouring Halliday's journal (Anorak's Almanac) and immersing himself in details of 1980s pop culture that Halliday loved in order to find clues to the location of the first 'key' to lead people to the egg. One day, Wade realizes that the first key is located on the planet Ludus, where his virtual high school is. He finds the re-creation of the Dungeous & Dragons module, Tomb of Horrors and meets Ar3mis, a famous female gunter and blogger (whom Wade also has a crush on) who has also realized the significance of the tomb. He defeats the Demon guarding the tomb at the video game Joust and wins the first key- the Copper Key. He also appears on the 'Scoreboard' attracting a whole lot of attention- friendly and unfriendly.

Soon, Wade clears the Copper Gate by playing through the Dungeons of Daggorath video game in a recreation of Halliday's childhood home and then role-playing his way through the classic 80s movie WarGames. Art3mis and Wade's best friend Aech clear the gate shortly afterward. His new found fame brings him the ability to earn a living through the endorsement of various virtual products- but it also brings Nolan Sorrento and his corporation IOI to Wade's door. When Wade refuses to join them, they blow up the stacks where Wade lives, killing his Aunt in the process and covering the crime up as a meth lab explosion.

Wade escapes and thanks to his endorsement deals, has the money to move to Columbus, Ohio and assume a pseudonym and living in an anonymous apartment for hardcore OASIS users. He considers an alliance with Aech, Art3mis and Daito and Shoto, two Japanese gunters who also earned the Copper Key. The alliance doesn't pan out, but he and Art3mis become friends- though when Wade asks her out, she declines and cuts off all contact with him, preferring to focus on the game instead.

Five months pass as Wade wallows in his heartbreak, but he's shaken out of it by the news that Art3mis has found the Jade Key. He gets back on the hunt once more and searches the planet arcade, where he stumbles upon a Pac-Man game that he defeats by posting a perfect game score. Wade thinks it might be the key to the Jade Key, but all he gets for his trouble is a quarter instead. He soon figures out that it's actually the text adventure Zork on the planet Frobozz and soon solves that game and gets the Jade Key. Art3mis and Aech get copies of the key as well- but Shoto and Daito run into trouble as the Sixers arrive in force and Daito is shockingly killed- not just in the game, but in real life, as the Sixers break into his apartment and throw him over the balcony.

Wade clears the Jade Gate using a Voight-Kampf machine in a Blade Runner themed building and gets the next clue to the final key, which is to be found on the planet Syrinx, taken from Rush's immortal album 2112. He tracks down the coordinates for the final key- and although he messages Art3mis, Aech and Shoto the solution, Sorrento and the Sixers figure out the location of the final key: Castle Anorak on the planet Chthonia and place a force field around it.

Unable to penetrate the shield, Wade infiltrates IOI to hack into their intranet to get information on how to get past it- and finds footage of Daito's murder and the attempt on his own life- and, most importantly of all, the fact that the Sixers have the name and location of Art3mis and Aech as well. He escapes IOI to warn his friends and publicizes the information the rally the Gunters to attack Castle Anorak and defeat the Sixers. Halliday's friend Ogden Morrow then intervenes to get Art3mis, Aech, Wade and Shoto to relative safety at his house in Oregon where they each are given their own immersion pods to prepare for the final battle. They finally break through and before he enters the Crystal Gate, Wade promises to split the fortune equally with his friends should he succeed. (Of course, he does.) Sorrento is arrested for murder. Wade gets the keys to the OASIS and then he logs off to step outside and meet Art3mis in person for the first time. Her actual name is Samantha and they rekindle their relationship with a kiss.

Overall: What a brilliant book this is. Drenched in 80s pop culture references, it transports you into the world it creates and does so with ease, brilliance and flare. If I had one wish, it would be that the movie could have been a bit more like the book- which had a certain complexity and tension that the movie, I felt lacked, but overall the audiobook version of this was well narrated by Wheaton and I rushed right through it to see how it ended and was sorry that it did end. But on the other hand, it ended perfectly: leaving the reader wanting to know more. My Grade: **** out of ****

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