In the future, society has retreated into a virtual game world called Oasis. The haves can afford it and have the gear and access points; the have-nots struggle to get by to pay for electricity and ration cards and lodging. But the great white hope is the fact that the richest person in the world has left his entire fortune up for grabs through an online treasure hunt. But can, Wade, our intrepid hero, with his limited gear and access, beat the evil IOI corporation to the easter egg and keep the Oasis available for everyone, not just those who have money?
It’s a great premise, and the book is quite enjoyable, especially for those of my generation who grew up on video games and the 80s pop culture that infuses this book. No, infuses isn’t quite the right term: this book swims in 80s pop culture of the exact nerdy nature that defines my childhood. It’s almost as if I grew up with this author (and, given that he’s from Austin, Texas, maybe I did, just a few hundreds of miles apart). As Wade goes from game to game in his quest to find the easter egg that will give him ownership of the Oasis, he interacts with video arcade games like Tempest and Pac-Man, early text adventures like Zork and Adventure (and its prelude, the pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons), nerd staples like the movie War Games and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and geek out music references from 80s pop to rock gods, Rush. The only thing really missing from this was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Marvel Comics, whereas Clime uses Japanese anime, which I didn’t have access to in my youth.
The book is by no means perfect, even if it does touch all my nostalgia buttons. The beginning is one long “tell” that sets up the premise as an info dump. The writer and editor in me couldn’t help but note that it easily could have been folded into more of an active opening about Wade and his obsession with the treasure hunt. Once the book gets into the actual plot, however, the stilted beginning is long forgotten as Wade progresses along the game. The plot itself is fairly predictable, although there’s a surprising middle section where Wade is as active a hero in the real world as his virtual avatar.
My cousin told me that this reminded him of some of the stories I wrote during high school that had myself and two friends enter into the fantasy worlds and interacting with the characters (something that many young writers do, I believe). Cline, however, gives this wish-fulfillment a reasonably believable future framework that leverages VR technology to accomplish what I had glossed over with a magical wave of the hand. It’s all a lot of fun, both for the writer, and the reader.
[Finished 20 Feb 2017; first published on Goodreads]