Turns out it is a dork-fest that obsesses about what essentially amounts to my childhood. And it is a page-turner, too. Score!
Set in a dystopic future (as which current science fiction novel is not), the book follows the adventures of the alliterative Wade Watts--who goes by the handle Parzival (yay, English Literature!)--as he solves three challenges put forward by the world's greatest game designer in an attempt to win a fortune, get the girl, and change the universe.
By gad, it really is a dork-fest. A wonderful, unabashed, comprehensive, lovingly articulated dork-fest. Cline name-checks everything from "It's a Dead Man's Party" to the Dungeons and Dragons rule book, John Hughes movies to Blade Runner, the TRS-80 personal computer to Second Life, nerd bonding over video games to first crushes. RP1 functions as a storyline, as a kind of social history, and as a non-alphabetized concordance to the '80s. Fun.
Do I have any niggling complaints? Sure. It is game-obsessed. It is an obvious novice effort stylistically. But, come on, man, that stuff is nitpicking. The ride is worth it; even for those of us who never legitimately finished Zork on our own.
Speaking of Zork--the first famous text-based role-player game--here is Wade starting down the path to solve one of the clues:
"I took a look around. My surroundings were eerily familiar.
"The opening text description in the game Zork read as follows:
WEST OF HOUSE
You are standing in an open field west of a
white house, with a boarded front door. There
is a small mailbox here.
"My avatar now stood in that open field, just west of the white house. The front door of the old Victorian mansion was boarded up, and there was a mailbox just a few yards away from me, at the end of the walkway leading to the house. The house was surrounded by a dense forest, and beyond it I saw a range of jagged mountain peaks. Glancing off to my left, I spotted a path leading to the north, right where I knew it should be."
-- Ready Player One. Cline, Ernest. New York (NY): Random House, 2011. Pp. 394-95 (eBook version).
If, like me, you once reserved the introductory sections of your cassette mix tapes for computer programs that you loaded into the microcomputer by pressing "Play," this book is a glorious romp through your youth. It has practically everything but my track and field kit and the Barrel of Hee. Even if you aren't pushing 50, it is still great fun.
So, if you haven't yet, drop the quarter and get started. Cline is ready, Player One.
PS - The book prominently features easter eggs, and even functioned as one, with the author offering a DeLorean to the winner of his contest-within-a-contest. Oh, and if you didn't dance to it then, you can dance to "It's a Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo today; now playing on iTunes.