I stayed up most of the other night obsessively reading this book. Although the book takes place in 2044, it has a ton of references to the 1980s pop culture. Why was I mesmerized by the book? I don't even remember what happened in the 80s, apart from episodes of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. (I did own an Atari, however, and can attest to the magnetic power of Space Invaders.) Music, movies, games of that era, for the most part, blew right past me. I only have a dilettante's memory of the references made in Ernest Cline's first book, Ready Player One.
The hero is a geeky, geeked-out 17- or 18-year-old boy. America has a bad case of dystopia, and Wade Owen Watts is one of its victims. He lives with his cold-hearted aunt in a mobile home tower. I say "tower" because habitable land is valuable and mobile homes are stacked one upon the other in a tower-like structure held together by scaffolding and a prayer.
Wade attends school via sensory-immersion virtual reality gear. He actually sits in a rusted-out van, but he attends school as his avatar, Wade3, on a virtual planet filled with schools. Outside of school, he's "Parzival," a gunter and avid OASIS participant. What does that mean, you ask?
Remember Second Life? It is a computer program designed to provide an on-line community. People are assigned, can design, or can buy an avatar, a digital representation -- and not necessarily an accurate one -- of themselves. Their avatars would interact in real-time with other peoples' avatars. People could buy virtual land, build virtual homes, make virtual friends, listen to real-time political speeches made by avatars of politicians, shop in virtual representations of real life businesses. The fictional OASIS is like that, only on steroids. OASIS makes it feel as though a person is truly in the virtual reality.
James Halliday, one of the founders of OASIS, died and left a game to be played. The winner of that game would win his substantial fortune and his company. Gunters are avid hunters of this prize. Parzival is a cool dude in this virtual world and a strong contender for the prize, whereas in the real world, he's sort of schlumpy and shy.
Ernest Cline -- who claims he was named after a muppet -- has created the ultimate book for fanatic collectors of minutiae of the 1980s. Can you recite each line of "War Games"? Apparently Cline can. Can you play almost the entire repertoire of home Atari games, and blast your way to the high score at 80s arcade games? Cline can. Can you play Dungeons & Dragons? Cline can. If you can, too, this is your book; it is calling your name, and you will put your life on hold to read it.
For the rest of us, it's still very entertaining. Geared perhaps more towards that now Holy Grail of reader groups, "Young Adult," Ready Player One nevertheless holds universal truths about friendship, honor, and valor for all of us.