As a child of the 80s (having been born in 1979), this book felt so much like coming home. All of the references to 80s pop culture, especially geek culture, were just so spot-on! I was not an arcade kid, since we didn’t have an arcade close enough to my house, but I definitely played more than my fair share of video games on personal gaming consoles like the Atari 2600 and NES. I also have fond memories of playing puzzle and sim games on the Commodore 64 and Mac Classic in “computer class” at school. I also watched waaaaaay too much TV and too many movies, so most of Cline’s references felt like a conversation with an old friend. It’s beyond obvious that Ernest Cline was a fellow geek and that he loved all the cheeseball 80s stuff just as much as my friends and I did. For real… If you are a fanboy/fangirl of geeky 80s pop culture, you NEED to read this book!
Even better than the reminiscing, though, was the foreshadowing of what could come to be if we (citizens of the world) don’t change our reliance on fossil fuels and unplug a little from the world of “social media” to actually interact with the people and the world around us — in real life! Imagine, if you will, a future in which most people around the world are so immersed in a virtual reality “utopia” known as the OASIS that they rarely leave their houses. Since most people no longer have their own vehicles or even the financial means to utilize public transportation, the OASIS was the closest thing they would ever get to traveling. Kids even started to attend school in the OASIS because the virtual world created it’s own schools to let pressure off of the failing public school system. When I read one quote, I wondered if Cline was really just that attuned to the forthcoming changes in our society back in 2011 or if he somehow traveled through time to 2016 before he finished his story — “Now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.”
One of the creators of the OASIS, James Halliday, had very few friends and never married or had any children. By the time of his death, he had even been estranged from his former business partner and one-time best friend for about a decade. So, before he died, he crafted an elaborate “Easter Egg” hunt within his virtual world to determine who would receive his fortune. Halliday’s last will and testament was announced to the world with a video chock-full of 80s references and explained that his heir would need to use their knowledge of Halliday’s favorite things to puzzle out the location of three keys and three gates/trials he had programmed into the OASIS. Everyone went nuts at first, but excitement waned after the first five years and only hardcore Gunters (a condensation of “egg hunters”) like Wade kept up the hunt. When Wade finds the first key and his name shows up on the leader board, though, the OASIS is suddenly hopping again and the competition stirs up adventure, danger, and even romance. I can’t wait to see how the movie of this book turns out…