Wade Watts escapes the bleak state future America through his avatar Parzival in a virtual reality MMO called the OASIS. When the mad-genius creator of the game dies, it sets off a world-wide competition to find his in-game Easter egg containing his inheritance and legacy–essentially, control over the OASIS. The quest involves deciphering his clues and spouting copious amounts of his beloved 1980’s pop-culture trivia, including arcade games, D&D, WarGames, and Rush. (FWIW, I am a 90’s kid, so most of the references were lost on me.)
The pacing of the book is excellent. Once I was a few chapters in I was hooked and really had a hard time putting it down. It’s fun to guess what game or movie reference will come up next. In fact, this book kind of has two geek layers: the 80’s references that are part of Parzival’s quest, and the more contemporary references that come in as part of the MMO (Firefly-class ships, 1337 speak, etc.) The OASIS is well-created and has some great ideas; in comparison, the real world is not as well thought out, and strangely less believable.
Despite a fairly flat villain (think Agent Smith), the hero characters are engaging. Especially Art3mis, kick-ass geek girl gamer, who miraculously manages to be tough and vulnerable at the same time. I totally understand Wade’s crush!
I don’t harbor any delusions that this book is on its way to scifi genre classic status. Cline could use some lessons in “show don’t tell,” as the writing (especially dialogue) is occasionally clunky, including repeated mentions that “Art3mis” is pronounced “Artemis” and “PvP” means that players can attack each other. And while its themes are not totally shallow, it really only touches on the kind of questions about humanity that hard scifi commonly explores. But I dare you not to have fun reading this book!
Tl;dr A fun page-turner, 80s nostalgia, writing could be better –4/5 stars