Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An 80's Geek's Bookgasm

I think the best way that I can describe Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is as an 80's Geek's Bookgasm.

I'd leave it at that, but I feel I should at least discuss how I came to discover and enjoy the book.

First, let me blame Mark and Jon of The Enthusiasticast. It was in Episode 72 that Jon starting talking about this novel by Cline. Before he was even half-way done, I was practically salivating and knew I wanted to read it.

No, I didn't want to read it.

I wanted to listen to the audio version read by Wil Wheaton. (I'd previously enjoyed listened to Wheaton read a few of his own books and knew he was an excellent narrator. Having Wheaton as the voice for this 80's "nerdgasm" was the perfect fit.

Throughout the listening (most of which was done via my 1.5 hour commute from Hamilton to Toronto), there were times when I just sat in the car and kept listening to the novel. And half the time, when traffic was so bad that I was stuck on the highway for up to 2 hours or more it didn't bother me in the slightest - because it meant I had more time to listen to the book. It was the perfect thing to soothe this commuter's soul . . .

In a nutshell, Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future in which a huge cross between social media and online gaming exists in a virtual world called The Oasis. The Oasis was created by billionaire James Halliday -- (think of him as a cross between Steve Jobs and Howard Hughes - hmm, maybe more of a John Hughes, given his love for that film-maker`s popular movies from the 80`s)

When Halliday dies, there is an announcement that his entire fortune will go to the person who can succeed in finding the 3 hidden Easter eggs that he planted somewhere in The Oasis. An entire culture of people dedicate their lives to finding these eggs - and it is, the way online gaming can become for some, an overwhelming obsession that takes over their lives.

A good deal of the Gunters (the "Egg Hunters") role is studying and leaning about Halliday - about the things he wrote, the things he said, the things he loved. Because Halliday was a product of and a huge fan of the 80`s (he was a teen in the 1980's) a good deal of understanding of where he might have hidden the eggs comes from understanding and knowing 80's pop culture.

This element of the book makes it an incredibly wonderful trip down memory lane for anyone who enjoyed the John Hughes teen movies of the time, playing Dungeons & Dragons, the very first text-based adventure games, the hype of Pac-Man and the video game arcade frenzy, and a slew of other pop culture music and movie references from the time.

Combine that with an intriguing set of characters (who are often extreme in their dedication to this virtual world and the hunt), a beautiful mirror held up to our current fascinating with online and mobile connectedness via social media, and an easy to approach style of writing made this a fantastic novel that I simply couldn't get enough of.

To top it off, the Canadian rock trio Rush ends up playing a significant role in the novel -- as a huge Rush nerd that completely blew my mind.

Being a fan of sci-fi, a fan of dystopian fiction, a lover of the 80's, a lover of Rush and a fan of Wil Wheaton it seems as if this novel was written for me -- or at least that I was one of the intended audience for this book.

But perhaps you might see how this novel was a kind of bookgasm for this particular 80's book nerd.

Thanks, Mr. Cline. Escaping into Ready Player One the way that many of the characters of the novel escape into The Oasis was a glorious treat that I fully enjoyed. Having the book read by Wil Wheaton was the perfect icing on that cake.

Needless to say I highly recommend this novel - but only if you're serious about 80's geek culture. If you are, chances are you'll have similar strong feelings. If you're not, you'll likely still enjoy the storyline, the twists and turns and the tension, along with the various plot strings that Cline sets up, but it's hard to say how you'll react to the strong 80's presence in the book.

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