“I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life. Right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real. Do you understand?”
In 2044, the world and especially the US isn’t looking so good. Wade Watts is one of many people living in “the stacks,” towers of trailers and mobile homes piled high. Wade isn’t great at interacting with people and his family life is less than ideal. But just like everyone else, Wade has a way to escape: The OASIS. This is an extremely immersive virtual reality experience that started out as one video game developed by James Halliday but soon exploded into an entire universe with thousands of planets to explore and even its own currency that’s more valuable and popular than regular cash. OASIS users have avatars that they can name and design in any way they choose. Wade’s avatar is named Parzival, and because Wade is poor he can’t really buy the equipment he needs to advance his avatar’s level. When James Halliday (now insanely, incredibly wealthy) dies, he’s a loner with no family, and he leaves behind a will that is anything but traditional. Somewhere in the depths of the OASIS he has hidden an “Easter Egg” and whoever’s avatar is the first to discover it will inherit his entire fortune. In order to access this prize, egg hunters (“gunters”) will need to find three keys that open three different gates. None of it can be done without completing various challenges that all relate to Halliday’s obsessions in life.
The resulting story is a complete love story to 1980s pop culture, the development of video games and computing, and basically all things geek (I’m not gonna pretend that I didn’t make a little excited noise when Parzival describes the teleportation booths as reminiscent of the TARDIS). Wade is a complete Halliday devotee and because he loves all of the things Halliday loves he is able to creatively attempt the quest for the egg despite his limited resources. Other important characters are Parzival’s fellow “gunters” including his best friend Aech (“H”) and long-time crush Art3mis.
Just kidding, I just had to put some Wil Wheaton here. The only spoiler I will give is that I thought this audiobook was… AWESOME! I loved the story and feel like a more inclusive type of virtual reality like the OASIS is not so far off for us. I identified with Wade, Art3mis, even Halliday in various ways and I found myself really sharing the characters’ triumphs and sorrows.
Maybe it’s just me being a general nerdy person but SO many of my favorite movies, TV shows, bands (RUSH!!!) and other things that I like all the way down to my favorite brand of sneaker had a home in this book and it literally warmed my heart. I would be stuck in traffic and look over to the car next to me to find someone staring at me because I was either hysterically laughing or crying a little bit and it probably looked weird since when I’m listening I’m alone in the car.
Wil Wheaton is the most perfect reader for this story. I was interested in getting this book in audiobook format even though I’ve wanted to read it in general for years now (one of my law school professors actually first recommended it to me) because it constantly comes up on lists of the best audiobook performances. I cannot separate the character of Wade from Wil’s voice in my mind now and I am hoping in vain that he will be cast as Wade in the movie when it comes out even though I know it probably won’t happen. It got to a point where I would just sit in my car in the work parking lot or when I got home because I could not bring myself to stop listening. I blame all of my tardiness on Ernest Cline and Wil.
Between this and The Martian I have been quite lucky with my sci-fi in recent weeks. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Cline’s successor novel Armada but I will probably check it out. I adored this book and everything about it and do not hesitate in giving it 5 stars 🙂