Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Wade Watts is living in the corner of his aunt's laundry room. It's 2044 and the world is a disaster. His housing project is called the stacks. Essentially, it's just trailers piled one on top of the other. Sometimes people die from falling from the heights. No one seems too concerned. All Wade has is what he's made for himself and the internet alternate universe that gives him some semblance of a life.
Cline taps in to our fears about the future and the pop culture of our past. Showcasing the perils of our anonymous online society as well as the ways it gives chances and hope to those who wouldn't have them otherwise, he's got us all down pat. This book really resonates with a reader, not just of a certain age. Sure, they reference the video games and movies I grew up/ came of age with, but Wade is a teenager in 2044 and they still want the same things as I did and my parents did. A safe home life (Wade has never known one of those), a good school with a safe learning environment that provides the tools to move on and up in life, friends, security, the list goes on.
Wade gets the education and the security that comes with it and friendship from the OASIS. It's a computer generated virtual world. There are gaming quests and dangers, but there are safe spots, too. The planet that all of the schools are on do not allow any violence and the schools themselves provide a safe harrassment free place to learn. Wade builds up his avatar and level to keep himself going, but he really doesn't have the resources to explore or use much of the OASIS. On the really really upside, every book, movie, tv show, album is available for free.
The creator of the OASIS intended for it to always be free. Then he died. Now, he's hidden three easter eggs somewhere in the virtual world and the person who finds them and follows the quests to the end will will a huge prize. Everyone sets out to get it. Factions and tribes form of questers working together, and individuals of every sort are on the hunt. James Halliday (OASIS' creator) left a manifesto for all to peruse. It becomes like a second Bible. People pore over every letter looking for clues and meaning. They immerse themselves in the movie, tv, video game and music of the 1980s, Halliday's favorite time, in the hopes of coming across the clue they need. Years pass and nothing happens. All but the very devoted questers and a rival company who wants to seize control of OASIS and change it for their own gain are left in the game. Then, one day Wade figures out the first clue. Now the race is on. It's all real and in the forefront of people's minds again. Now, the competition gets deadly, quite literally.
I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. Sure, Cline references, what seems like every moment of my teen years, which certainly didn't hurt. But, there is so much to keep your mind going here. You've got the pop culture references, but you've also got a world out of control. People turn away from the disaster around them and seek shelter in a virtual world. How sad is that? Even worse, many of them seem intent on screwing up that one as much as they can as well. Then you have the fact that every resource is freely available to everyone. Every single person has access to a safe and top notch education. Success in the virtual world does translate to help in the real world. The money earned can be used for food, clothes, etc.
This is definitely a direction we're headed toward and, clearly, it has its pros and cons. This book provides, along with an action packed, well written and highly interesting story, a look at choices we'll actually have to make in our future. How do we balance the real and the virtual? How can we get and make the best of technology and still save ourselves and our environment? How do we retain our humanity in a world where our social interactions are less face to face with people we actually know and more anonymous in a room alone with our phones, tablets and laptops?