Disclaimer: The following review is going to be incredibly biased. I love this story and think it's probably one of my favorites of all time. It's not especially well written, but it's not bad either. The selling point for me is the world that Cline creates. There are references to so many aspects of my childhood in such an amazingly detailed and lovingly nostalgic way that at times I felt like this book was written just for my own personal enjoyment. It's filled with all the guilty pleasures of my 80s childhood (and adulthood?) from Voltron to Star Wars, from Galaga to World of Warcraft and from Def Leppard to AC/DC. It's a world where R2D2 djs parties in a zero gravity 80s pop dance club and you can visit your favorite fictional worlds and relax with Elrond at Rivendell or visit an enormous planet called Archaide to play all your favorite coin-op classics. A completely immersive virtual version of the internet with all its pitfalls and treasures. And I loved. Every. Inch. Of. It. (Or byte of it.)
Wade Watts is an overweight bepimpled teen whose whole life revolves around unravelling the greatest mystery left by the greatest video game designer in the world. He's also the most absolutely frumpy and unlikely protagonist in the history of epic adventures. He's a schlub, a coach potato, a nerd and geek extraordinaire and he wants but one thing: to find Halliday's Egg. To do so he has to search the length and breadth of the OASIS, an online virtual world almost infinite in size in pursuit of clues and solving riddles to hunt down the egg. His competition: thousands of gunters (fellow egg hunters) arrayed as soloists or in large clans with immense resources and the evil IOI corporation headed by Sorrento who want to use their corporate money to find the egg first and the billions it entails to seize control of Halliday's OASIS and charge people use-fees and subvert and pervert Halliday's will. These aren't phony bad guys from an 80s movie like the Running Man either. They steal, cheat and kill (in the real world) to prevent others from reaching the egg before they do and the alliterative Wade Watts is all that stands between them and success.
This novel is a love letter to childhood that I remember very very well. It is the reason for my glowing review and I'm sure that most people raised outside of the relatively new geekiness of the 80s may not completely connect the way I did. The games referenced and played aren't always high resolution first person shooters like Call of Duty, but the ones I remember playing for hours like Pac Man (in mom and pop pizza shops!), Street Fighter II and text-based adventures - things that children of the HD age may find quaint and lame. But aside from all that the core idea is still lovable by nerds of any generation. But more than that, I think anyone who's fond of adventure, quests and puzzles, unlikely heroes and imperfect heroines, and abjectly evil greedy corporate hordes (or a penchant for 1970s Japanese sci-fi - this book has EVERYTHING I tell you!) will at least like
this book. Sure, it's fairytale-ish. The good guys are pretty good with just geek-like character flaws (shyness, social awkwardness of a crippling nature and low self-esteem) and the bad guys have no redeeming qualities either. Along the way, the "hero" receives aid from the "sage" and the "magician" in a grand epic style that Joseph Campbell could have easily used to illustrate his points in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, but you know what? It's still good.
Sorry for the random tangents and unfocused writing...this book literally left me with a giddy and excited high that probably interfered with my higher cognitive functions like critical thinking. Afraid all I'm left with is, "THAT IS SO....COOOOOOOOOOOOL." So cool, I want to live in it. I look forward to your future work Mr. Cline.