Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
ISBN: 9780307913142
CDs/Discs: 13 CDs, 15.5 hours
Pages: 374 pages
Publisher/Date: Crown Publishers, Random House Audio, c2011.
Awards: 2012 Alex Awards

“You’re first instinct right now might be to log out and make a run for it,” Sorrento said. “I urge you not to make that mistake. Your trailer is currently wired with a large quantity of high explosives.” He pulled something that looked like a remote control out of his pocket and held it up. “And my finger is on the detonator. If you log out of this chatlink session, you will die within a few seconds. Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Mr. Watts?” (142)

In the year 2044, humanity escapes from what is left of the world by plugging int the OASIS, a virtual utopia similar to the Sims where people can be anything and do almost anything. It’s here we meet Wade Watts, a seventeen-year-old who has been competing against millions of other people in the biggest scavenger hunt ever created. The massive fortune of the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, has been put up for grabs for the first person to complete a series of challenges and puzzles that range throughout the virtual OASIS. Based on aspects of 1980s pop culture, including movies, music, books, and especially video games, the hunt has gone on for five long years, and quite a few players have lost hope. Then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle, and the frenzy of the hunt resumes. Wade must outwit and outplay the entire world in order to win, but he’s especially worried about the Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of a conglomerate company who’s only goal is to monopolize and monetize the free virtual escape.

Full disclosure: I was not a teenager in the 1980s like James Halliday was, but I still throughly enjoyed listening to Ready Player One. I was yelling at my speakers, laughing along at Wade’s exploits, and was pleasantly pleased at how many references to 1980s culture I was already familiar with, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Star Wars and Star Trex, Pacman, and Dungeons and Dragons. Some of the more obscure trivia I think would have even people who lived during that era scratching their heads, unless they are well versed in hacking history.

While the start is somewhat slow as Cline takes the time to explain his world building and the background behind the events, it quickly escalates after the first clue is found. Geeks might actually enjoy knowing the ins and outs of the OASIS, although non-geeks might get turned off by the technical talk. The characters are all most certainly grandiose geeks, and while there are some spots where the information is repeated, in my opinion it’s better to have a refresher of the information than not receive it at all. I think the action moved a little too quickly for my tastes towards the end, as clues are deciphered very quickly by multiple players, when the first clue took everyone five years to figure out, but listeners get caught up in the excitement and the hunt and really don’t have time or an inclination to quibble about the breakneck, escalating frenetic pace and epic battle at the end.

Wade is a likeable enough character, participating in the competition as an underdog since he has almost no experience points, financial assistance, or even a secure physical home where he can reside. Sorrento, the head of the commercial conglomerate (the company is nicknamed the Sixers in the book due to their avatars six digit identification numbers) is a stagnant and one-dimensional, stereotypical greedy bad-guy type character. Wade’s four top human competitors are a little more three-dimensional, although still stereotypical in certain ways.

Although Wil Wheaton struggles with female voices, most of the narration is first person from Wade’s perspective, which allows him the ability to really develop Wade and delve into his role. It’s an added nod to the 1980s culture to have him narrate, since Wheaton portrayed Wesley Crusher in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television show in the 1980s and 1990s. I can definitely see geeks and gamers of both genders gobbling up this book.