If you think about it, video games are kind of like modern day fairy tales. You inhabit a main character who takes you through a land of adventure. There’s a chance that character may get killed, which makes it dangerous, but also more exciting. Often, there’s a love interest (a princess hiding in a castle) and a villian (the evil little man holding her captive).
Knowing all this, it makes sense that Ernest Cline would write a book about video games that could have been penned by Grimm himself, had he lived much, much longer. Cline’s debut, Ready Player One — so self-assured and enthralling that it’s hard to believe this is his first novel — takes place in a dystopian near future, where the economy has spiraled even further out of control and computers are more or less the only way people can experience freedom from their terrible lives.
There’s a virtual reality in place (what is still more of a fad here has all but encompassed reality in Ready Player One), called OASIS and crafted by a mysterious and well-known programmer named James Halliday. Upon his death, information was released that Halliday had created an “egg” in the virtual reality, and those who found it would inherit pretty much everything he left: a whole lot of money, and control over the entire virtual reality world. The world is a big one, with planets upon planets and towns upon towns. Companies or wealthy individuals can buy space and create whatever they want; real money is used. Kids go to school there.
The book follows underdog Wade Watts, a high school student, as he and others like him try to find the egg using vast knowledge of everything 1980’s: lots of old-school video games, John Hughes movies, Rush songs — everything that Halliday loved. Everyone else is looking for the egg too, including an evil corporate entity who wants to monetize… basically everything.
You don’t have to be a child of the ’80s to get the references; surprisingly, most pop culture touchstones from that decade have had a much longer shelf life. Considering the computer heavy theme in Ready Player One, the humans in the machine are well-drawn, charming and perfect conduits for the reader in this modern-day fairy tale.