This book came into my world view from a few people I was once friends with, who were discussing the possibility of it becoming a movie. I hadn’t heard of it, and was willing to get it when I later found it in a store. When ARMADA came out just recently, it spurred my interest again so when the BookTubeAThon came around, it seemed the perfect reason to finally get this book off my TBR.
I have no clue why people don’t like this book.
Anyone who has any experience with 80s culture should take all kind of joy out of this book. Even as a child born very late in the 80s, pop culture is a very prevalent thing in my family so many of the references matched up to things I either knew or had at least heard of.
The story is relatively simple: it takes place in essentially a post-apocalyptic society where the world is trashed and the sole refuge is an Oculus Rift-style immersive Internet world called the OASIS. One of the main creators of the OASIS was obsessed with pop culture of that era, and has hidden the key to inheriting his massive fortune somewhere inside the world. It’s been a while since James Halliday died, and the Easter eggs which lead to the inheritance are hidden well. But that’s not going to stop Wade Watts from trying to find it.
I had a marvelous time following Wade (or as he’s better known in OASIS, Parzival) on his journey. Again, being a child of pop culture myself, seeing the callbacks was hysterical, even if I didn’t understand them. And given how hidden some of the ones that I caught were, I am sure I missed a bunch. I don’t think it detracts, however. It’s a perfectly understandable story even aside from the culture–though I think an understanding of what they’re referencing probably helps. (WarGames, Monty Python, the list goes on. Like I said, I was having a blast.)
One of the things that I found most endearing about the book is that while it’s being told from the perspective of a teenager, it never diminishes him or his independence, nor talks down to the reader. Wade has been on his own, essentially, for a very long time. He’s established who he is and what he wants to become, and he’s had to fend for himself in a very unsupportive family base. And Cline didn’t forget that as he was writing Wade; the character is proactive, independent, and not afraid to do what he has to in order to survive–and win. However, he’s also still a teenager, with teenage problems, and teenage mentalities. He’s a very likable character.
The secondary characters are also very well-thought out. I loved Aech and Art3mis, and I loved how we found out more about them. The enemies were bad, the heroes were flawed…overall, character was spot on.
What I’ve found interesting is the number of people who appear to be angry or resentful about the amount of pop culture in the book, and think it’s nothing but a big thumbs-up to those in the know and a big F-U to those who aren’t. …I have to imagine that these people don’t get the point of the book. OASIS, and the game Halliday created within it, is exactly that. It’s an homage to all the things he loved in life. The entire culture that Wade lives in has been built to focus exclusively on that. So yes, every other piece of dialogue might be a callback to Breakfast Club. That’s the way that world works. I’d be disappointed if it weren’t like that. If I build a world where everyone is taught to love YouTube celebrities, then yes. I’m going to expect them to be quoting people like Markiplier, JackSepticEye, Philip DeFranco, all the way down to Dave from Boyinaband and the BookTubers. They’d know every single little thing about YouTube and who was on it and why. I want pop culture references everywhere. The world isn’t believable otherwise.
In the wake of movies like Pixels which I think try to encapsulate the feeling of this book and don’t quite make it, I think this is a fantastic read and I can’t wait to pick up Armada, because even if it’s not in the same world, I still want to see Cline tackle something new. (And I wouldn’t mind seeing at least a novella or short story of Art3mis and Parzival…jsut saying…)
Rating: ***** – Highest Recommendation