Fossil fuels have run out and the world has crumbled into an ashy, desolate heap. In Cline’s novel, the only solace has become an open world platform game called the Oasis. At the beginning of the novel the game has already replaced the majority of normal life, working, socialising and even school. The creator (Halliday) then dies, leaving an Easter Egg planted within the game which entitles the winner to his entire fortune (billions of dollars) as well as the rights to the game. As a result the entire population of the planet begins the hunt, obsessively dissect the life of Halliday to find the clues to where the egg is hidden. It isn’t just individuals either, a huge corporation (basically a fictional EA) also wants to get their hands on the egg so that they can profit from the game. We follow Wade Watts, a teenager with a serious Halliday obsession as he tries to solve the riddles which will lead him to the ultimate prize.
What I love about this novel is that it really captures how the early internet felt. It talks about chatrooms and avatars, the power to be some else and to make friends with people who are millions of miles away. It also heavily references 80’s pop culture, music, movies and arcade games which feels nostalgic (even though I missed most of the 80s due to not being alive.) I’m sure for some people it takes them back to their teenage years, I know a lot of gamers and proud nerds love this novel because it’s so heavily imbedded in an era they remember fondly. I like that this novel reintroduces us to a wold where the internet means endless, exciting possibilities which is a feeling a remember from first laying my eyes on Jeeves the Butler. It has an essence of naive wonder and Cline portrays a deep understanding of technologies capacity to free us from our everyday lives.
I also quite enjoyed the relationships between the characters and the way that they interact in a Virtual World. Wade crushes on a girl whose avatar is called Art3mis and the more he gets to know her the more obsessed with her he becomes to the point that he believes it’s love. I liked that the book addresses the tug between not knowing someone in the flesh and still forming complicated feelings for them. It discusses the idea of not knowing and whether it infact matters who they are if you have a connection with them. This is illustrated later when Wade meets Aech who has been his friend online for years, only to discover they aren’t what they seemed. It’s all quite cute, but I do feel that it presents an idealised view. We’re far more cautious of the unknown in reality and this novel doesn’t really address the darker sides of the internet as we know it.
In all I enjoyed the story and the deep dive into 80’s pop culture. It is simple and predictable, but overall it’s interesting to explore the world that Cline has created. I’d like to find out what happens after the book ends and where the characters went from there (hopefully outside more regularly.) Some people may not like the low jepardy of the plot, it’s described as distopian but I don’t think it fits the genre as it’s really too nice and not at all sinister, I’d say fantasy is more accurate. The author does try to suggest that there are real world consequences, however I didn’t really feel at all moved by any character deaths or insinuations that something bad might happen. I worked out quite quickly who would survive and who would take the hits as well as the twists so it’s potentally a little unsatisfying if you’re only in it for plot.
I was actually planning to read something else entirely but was compelled to push this up my TBR because they’re going to release it as a movie in March (very soon!) I always look forward to seeing how books play out on the big screen but get that Mockingjay feeling that the book might be better? A lot of people think the book is a bit boring and are hoping the film will rectify this! I can see that it’s ripe for screen with all the scope for special effects but hope it doesn’t lose some of the digital world building in translation. We shall see, I do find it a bit ironic that this novel is a rage against huge companies coming in and ruining everything, yet it’s going to be a massive blockbuster directed by Steven Spielberg.
Have you read it? Did you like it? Are you excited for the film?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!