Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
Broadway books, 2011
Ready Player One is a near-future science fiction novel set (mostly) in a virtual reality MMORPG.
James Halliday, the man who found a way to bring immersive VR to the masses, became very very wealthy very quickly. He became more wealthy, and then even more wealthy. Then he died. He died without heir, but with plenty of warning. So, after a lifetime of bringing games to the world, Halliday left the world with the biggest game yet -- a game that would award All The Money to the first person to solve his three puzzles. Except that he never got around to telling anyone what the puzzles were, or where to find them.
Wade Watts has lived in The Stacks since he was a born, suburbs built of mountains of mobile homes supported by makeshift skeletons of I-beams. He spends most of his time in the laundry room of his aunt's trailer, as all of the bedrooms are rented out to other families, and his aunt barely tolerates his presence even there. Not being particularly wanted anywhere in the Real World, he spends a lot of time on-line. And there he has the same hobby as everyone else -- reliving the 1980s of James Halliday's youth. The movies, the TV, the D&D mythology, the comic books, and especially the computer games. All of the computer games, from Atari on up.
Five years after Halliday's death, Wade stumbles on a clue as to where one of the puzzles might be found... well, maybe. Okay probably not. But he takes the time to follow up on it, and finds that his name has appeared on top of the big scoreboard. And suddenly, he is the most important, loved, and hated person in the world. And the race is on.
This is a pretty groovy book, whether you like science fiction or not. Basically, the only serious new technology is virtual reality, which is barely science fiction these days. The story is primarily an adventure story with frequent rest breaks in the 1980s. I personally was not very culturally engaged in the 1980s, but I still found the book quite entertaining; I expect that it would be even more so if you remember the popular culture, and especially the geek culture, of the 80s.
The writing style and subject matter reminded me fairly strongly of Cory Doctorow, although Ernest Cline is perhaps a better writer, and certainly writes to appeal to a wider audience. The book is well-paced and builds nicely, and manages to straddle the line between a popular adventure story and a geek fest without disappointing either audience. And yes, there is enough real-world action to keep the story engaging even if you aren't a Matrix fan. All-in-all, a highly recommended book.