The whole world is thrown into chaos following the fossil fuel exhaustion and subsequent wars. In the wake of this destruction, humanity seeks solace in the OASIS – a massive virtual reality video game – created by James Donovan Halliday (aka Anorak), stereotypical geeky-nerdy-sociopathic uber genius. He passes away bequeathing his legacy to whoever cracks the bunch of ‘easter eggs’ he’s placed in the OASIS. This book is about a handful of people trying to find the eggs before evil-immoral-corrupt-multinational corporation takes over humanity’s only relief (!). Basically, your typical, garden variety, David vs Goliath story, albeit it is hidden under layers and layers of obscure eighties movie/music/video game trivia.
First things first. I am not really an 80’s kid.
I haven’t even heard about Atari until a few years ago. Even as an adult, I am not too fond of video games (especially first person shooting games). My first memory of playing a video game was when I was about ten years old. I remember a group of similar aged cousins (including yours truly) huddled over a nintendo console taking turns playing two player games (as our play time was strictly rationed and we did whatever we could to get more out of it). I vaguely recollect some of the names such as Elevator Action, Contra, Donkey Kong and City connection.
To put it simply, I wasn’t as fond of the 80’s America as the author was. Hence, most (read, almost all) references in the book went over my head. Honestly, I haven’t watched even a single movie referenced in the books and most of the music, I haven’t even heard about them before reading this book. Half way into the book, I realised that I’m not really interested in knowing about them. The first few times, I took the effort to google them but after a while, I stopped caring.
In spite of all this, I found this book to be an average read. It has an okay story and average characters. I would like to commend the author for not giving into the urge to include the quintessential (and stereotypical) tech geek of Indian origin (though there a couple of Japanese people involved).
The author does not pay as much attention to describing the real world as much as he did on describing the OASIS universe (yup, it is a Rubik’s cube shaped universe which has planets and asteroids and spaceships and stuff). We only get to know a bit about the Stacks, where Wade lives initially and a glimpse of the paradise that is Ogden Marrow’s sprawling mansion. Cline mentions that the real world fell into ruin with the fossil fuel crisis but doesn’t really explain how the other stuff is powered. For example, the protagonist Wade has this cool hamster ball thingy to simulate movements when he is logged in to the OASIS but we never find out where the electricity to power it comes from.
Also, most of the plot feels like a bunch of happy coincidences – Wade’s time at the IOI as an indentured tech support, Wade’s extra life from the Pacman game, Morrow’s help during the climax – the list goes on. And Ogden Morrow’s birthday party – I am not sure why that particular episode was placed in the book in the first place, except as a sorry excuse background scene to introduce some kind of obscure romantic tension and misunderstanding between Parzival and Art3mis.
Last word – Pick up the book only if you
(a) have a thing for 80’s American movie/music/video games
(b) have a lot of time to kill and nothing else to do
Either ways, you will not be disappointed. Much.
P.S. This is one of those books where I’d come to know of the movie before the book. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I’ve heard that it departs considerably from the book’s plot and for the better. So, if you have watched the movie, do share your thoughts on it.
Until next time,