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Book Cover Image: Ready Player One by Ernest ClineTitle: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Audiobook Length: 15 hours, 46 minutes

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):

“It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize. Are you ready?”

Thoughts: If one were to look up the definition of thriller in the dictionary in a year or two, the next time the powers that be at Webster decide to add new words or makes changes, the cover art of Ready Player One should be pictured. As a thriller, Ready Player One is one of the best. Hearts pound, blood races, and breaths come quicker all while the reader drops almost everything to race to the end of the novel to find out what happens. It is that good.

In addition to taut action and killer suspense, which are difficult to master on their own, Mr. Cline adds a futuristic world that is similar enough to 2011 to add a creep factor to the entire proceedings. To offset that, he also masterfully includes pop culture references from the 1980s. Oh, the references! John Hughes, classic video games, ancient computer systems, arcades, cereals, music, movies – there is a world within a world in Ready Player One, and it is all supremely fun. Ready Player One really is an ode to the 80s, making the entire decade much cooler than it seemed the first time.

Wade is immensely likeable in an every-man fashion. He is the true underdog – background of deprivation, learning by the school of hard knocks. He is boastful, but his actions back up his boasts. He is resourceful, and his reasoning skills are phenomenal. More importantly, he is young, and his youth and inexperience at playing hardball with the power players creates some of the tenser moments in the novel. He is the underdog, and the reader supports him 100 percent.

As the narrator, Wil Wheaton’s enthusiasm truly helps the performance. His obvious enjoyment of the material he is reading makes the entire experience that much more fun. Mr. Wheaton may not differentiate between many of the characters, but the novel is written in such a way that it does not matter. Add to that the absolute hilarity and geekiness that ensues when Wesley Crusher himself is reading a novel that has more references to various science fiction novels, television shows, movies, and video games than a Star Trek convention. The entire experience is pure auditory gold.

If ever there is a perfect novel that sums up the challenges faced by an entire generation, Ready Player One is it. Interspersed amid all of the cultural references and fantastic images of virtual reality re-imagined are cautionary tales about spending too much time online, about losing one’s connection with reality. As the younger generation, the ones who have only known a world with computers and the Internet, spend more and more time online working, shopping, socializing, and playing, they are the ones who best need to pay attention to the future as presented by Mr. Cline. It is not a pretty picture, in spite of the very cool OASIS, and one that is all too easily imagined as a very real possibility.

Ready Player One is the rare novel that appeals to everyone from all generations and to both genders. It has action, adventure, and a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure. It has an enticing vision of the future and enough nostalgic glimpses of the past to appeal to readers of any age. The writing is concise and exact, using the reader’s memory to best evoke the necessary images. More importantly, Ready Player One is simply fun. It is the type of novel where the reader will enjoy every word written, will laugh, will get a little emotional, and will close the book with immense satisfaction. I know I did.

Acknowledgements: I purchased this from Audible.

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