by Ernest Cline
In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.
(This was a shared read with Donald. We also listened to the 372 Pages We'll Never Get Back "podcast book club" from Rifftrax's Michael J. Nelson and Conor Lastowka.)
Let me preface this by saying that I was a child in the 80s (and a teen in the 90s)-- and what's more, I get the appeal of nostalgia. (And yes, I am convinced that in the 80s-- and honestly, many other decades-- music was better, on average, than what I hear on the radio now.)
I'm also an unashamed consumer of many "nerdy" franchises. (Not that anyone is ashamed of being a nerd/geek in the modern world. At least some version of so-called "nerdiness" has been cool for quite some time, now. It's all pretty mainstream...)
However, even with my nerdy 80's-kid cred, I felt no warm fuzzies while reading this book, and I'm amazed that it's so beloved. (After Fifty Shades of Grey, I should've known better...)
Admittedly, I've never been much of a gamer, but I don't think it would've made much of a difference if I had been. The problem is, pop culture references can only take you so far. There needs to be something of substance to make a novel good, and this one is lacking.
The concept of the OASIS is interesting (though not exactly groundbreaking), but the characters were not as likeable as they're clearly supposed to be, the writing was rife with "telling, not showing", the numerous gods were falling over themselves to leap from their varied machines... Do I really need to go on? It's all been detailed in other reviews.
Essentially, a glut of references to the nerd culture of the 80s (and sometimes 70s, 90s, etc.) is apparently supposed to be enough to sustain an entire novel. Well, it's not. It's not enough to make me love or even like the characters. It's not enough to add drama or a sense of purpose. It's not enough to make sense of this dystopian future where the world is a steaming pile of crap just a few years from GAME OVER-- which doesn't seem to stop people from living almost their entire lives hooked into some glittering digital utopia. (Where is the food coming from? The OASIS seems to run pretty smoothly, considering the energy crisis... Who's making all these "rigs" that everyone has?)
Ugh. I just don't get this book's popularity, at all. (And that's before I factor in the author's pompous atheist screed, creepy masturbation manifesto, and the unnecessary inclusion of "UberBetty". Dude. Some stuff you really ought to just keep to yourself.)
It's just not good!
(Also, how does one categorize this? Apart from some adult themes, it has a YA vibe, and the main characters are young adults, but most of the references-- the only possible reason to read this thing-- are clearly aimed at an older audience who would have been young adults/children/conscious in the 1980s.)
That said, I suspect that the movie-making professionals will manage to make the movie better than the book. For one thing, it would be difficult not to improve upon the source material... For another, it seems likely that the story (such as it is) will work better on screen than in writing. It should be much easier to stack up the layers of visual and audio references. I'll probably see it, at some point, just out of curiosity. Er, well, unless the reviews are awful...
Reading about someone playing "classic" video games and reciting movie dialogue line by tedious line was not enjoyable; let's see if Spielberg and co. can make watching it any more palatable.