Is there such a thing as a perfect cover? One where it’s style, originality and relevance to the story come together beautifully into a tasty pile of scrumptiousness. Like combining pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, all delicious items of munch on their own, but together they are perfection. This cover is all that and glass of fruit juice.
It’s 2044, we’ve stripped the earth bare of most of her resources and wars are being waged over what‘s left, there is little to enjoy about life in the USA. Between scrabbling for food stamps and sharing a trailer with his hateful Aunt and 20 other desperate people, Wade Watts only has one good thing in this life: the OASIS. Created by the eccentric and reclusive James Halliday, a man obsessed with the 80’s of his youth. OASIS is a virtual online universe of infinite possibilities, where you can be whatever you want, go wherever you want and own whatever you want. Or at least you can if you can afford it. But for now Wade has to make do with the free limited access he gets to attend school on the virtual plain.
Something that will have to change if he’s ever going to going to be a serious competitor for the ultimate prize, a prize that will be awarded to whoever cracks Halliday’s final riddle and completes his hidden tests. Complete ownership of OASIS as well as the billionaire’s entire fortune.
But years pass after the Halliday’s death and still no one has made any progress unlocking the first riddle. That is until the fateful day Wade’s name appears at the top of the scoreboard for all to see. And not everybody after the prize is willing to play fair.
'I Defeated the Sword Master of Melee Island and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.'
If I was to write a list of the emotions my brain experienced while reading this book it would probably go a little bit like this: Excitement, Anticipation, Love, More Excitement, Fist Punching the Air, Trepidation, Love, Joy, Tears, Adoration, Oodles of more Excitement and finally Book hugging Love. But that doesn’t really make for an interesting review and it makes me sound like an excitable Chihuahua.
So I'll begin with the world, both of them. This is a bleak future that Wade lives in and it's the usual dystopian problems of limited resources, widespread poverty and crime so it's no wonder that the majority of the story takes place within the OASIS, probably the greatest virtual online platform known to fiction (I seriously would rate this even above the Star Trek holodeck, and I wanted to live there when I was a child!). It's structured like a multiverse of planetary systems and each planet can be fashioned in any way the creator chooses, it's virtual so there are no restraints. And the imagination Mr Cline has put into describing the places Wade visits is extraordinary. You would think that a world based solely on the fandoms of the past and present would somehow be limiting or that they would be employed as a sort of cheap nostalgic thrill to hook us nerdy lot in. Not so, the OASIS is beautifully realised and feels completely authentic, if it existed today (and goddamn it why doesn't it!) I have no doubt that it would resemble almost exactly what Mr Cline has created, this man knows how fans think.
“I’d designed my avatar’s face and body to look, more or less, like my own. My avatar had a slightly smaller nose than me, and he was taller. And thinner. And more muscular. And he didn’t have any teenage acne. But aside from these minor details, we looked more or less identical.”
And, more importantly, how we talk. The dialogue is charming, awkward and believable. Wade is a sixteen year old boy with an obsession, to crack James Halliday's final riddle. And his knowledge of the eccentric genius is encyclopedic, Wade is a human library on the games, movies, music and pop culture that Halliday loved and (like all serious fans) there's nothing he loves more then to discuss them. Which he does, at length with his only real (albeit virtual) friend Aech, the semi famous online arena fighter. The scenes between these two are hilarious and at times all a little bit too real for me (I have been known to take some movie/game arguments a little too far). And once he meets Art3mis, the avatar he's been crushing on through her blog posts, I really started to love Wade and his adorable round about way of flirting, despite the fact he knows full well that Art3mis could quite possibly be a 25 stone 40 year old man in real life.
“I watched a lot of YouTube videos of cute geeky girls playing '80s cover tunes on ukuleles. Technically, this wasn't part of my research, but I had a serious cute-geeky-girls-playing-ukuleles fetish that I can neither explain nor defend.”
Despite Wade's superior Halliday knowledge and the fact that he is the first to break the first riddle, he is still at a disadvantage when his sudden international fame brings him to the attention of the IOI corporation, the seriously bad guys in this story. They employ hundreds of experts, use top of the range equipment and all they want is to win that prize and take OASIS to turn it in to the money making machine it could be, and they are more then willing to kill for it. The IOI guys (or Sixers as they're known) were effectively brutal villains and their leader, Sorrento, is as charmingly evil as they come.
This is a book for anyone who has ever loved a movie or a game or anything so much they just wanted everyone else to love it as much as they did. And this is exactly how I feel about this book, it is currently my Favorite Book of The Year so far and I have already enticed four other people to enjoy it as well, usually by throwing it at them repeatedly until they relented, needless to say they thanked me later (and the bruises totally faded!).
Do not let this book go unread!
Review is based on an advanced reader copy which was kindly supplied by NetGalley. My review is a honest account and absolutely no payment was received for it. I also then went and purchased a copy anyway as it was so freakin' awesome!