When I was looking for a non-packed book to read, I decided I could no longer avoid this tribute to the 1980’s set in 2044, in light of all the positive reviews.
In a world devastated by wars, poverty, and disastrous political and ecological policies, anyone who has the financial means retreats into the virtual world of OASIS, a multiplayer online game that, as the hero Wade Watts recounts, “gradually evolved into the globally networked virtual reality most of humanity now used on a daily basis.”
The appeal was easy to ascertain. The real world was unpleasant and violent. In OASIS, you could make the world be whatever you wanted. You could even build your own private planet! You could be whoever you wanted as well. As Wade explains,
Before long, billions of people around the world were working and playing in the OASIS every day. Some of them met, fell in love, and got married without ever setting foot on the same continent. The lines of distinction between a person’s real identity and that of their avatar began to blur.”
[Thank heavens this never happens in real life! Um, well, except sometimes.]
OASIS was invented by eccentric James Halliday, who has just died as the book begins. Upon his death, a posthumous video is released announcing that Halliday’s billions will go to anyone who finds the hidden prize in a game he created before he died. He provides the first clue, stating that there are three hidden keys to open three secret gates. It is also made clear that finding the keys requires an immersion into the culture of Halliday’s favorite decade, the 1980’s.
Wade, age 18, is a loner whose parents are dead and who spends virtually [sic] all his time inside the world of OASIS. And since Halliday is one of Wade’s heroes, he also already knows a lot about him and his best-loved era.
Like many of the so-called “gunters” (those searching for the treasure), Wade now spends even more hours watching reruns of 80’s sitcoms, listening to 80’s music, watching 80’s movies, mastering 80’s video games, and hanging out in virtual chat rooms with other gunters. After five years, Wade becomes the first one to accomplish the first stage of the quest. He is instantly famous, and his life is instantly in danger.
Several others join him at the top of the scoreboard, including his best virtual friend Aech, and his virtual crush, Art3mis. But the rival company of OASIS is also looking for the prize, and has the money and resources to threaten the lives of any individual seekers who experience success, such as Wade and his friends.
The game becomes a race against the clock, and a contest for more than money. And perhaps the scariest thing of all? In order to vanquish the bad guys, Wade has to meet his comrades in real life!
Evaluation: I enjoyed this book, but not as much as bloggers for whom The Eighties is more meaningful. Back then, I watched MTV a lot, but otherwise I was somehow Missing in Action. Also, I recently read Reamde (see my review, here), which I found to be a much more sophisticated look at life in a virtual world and the people who design it, play in it, and use it for other purposes. Nevertheless, this book was still an entertaining read, and I would definitely recommend it for those who are into playing any sort of computer games.
Published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2011