In the year 2044, 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 has 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.
But 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.
Question: When does a reference stop feeling like a fun wink-wink to the reader and start feeling like an author just jamming a 450-page list down your throat?
Answer: When the main character can describe nothing – not a landscape, a situation, another person, music, most items, their own feelings – without referencing something created in the ’80s.
To the extent that this is an actual line in the book: “I wanted, as the ’80s poet Howard Jones would say, to get to know her well.”
I actually don’t even know what to write after putting that quote down. That line alone tells you how dependent on nostalgia Cline is to keep the reader engaged with his book because, lord knows, he’s not going to be forced to do something so basic as write humanish characters, a believable plot, or a realistic world.
The world. My god, I don’t think there has ever been a book with such bad world building.
But before I get there, first, I have to say I had a huge problem with Cline’s Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu main character combo platter and his paper thin plot where he shows off how little he actually knows about the internet and fandom at basically every available turn. The story begins 5 years into the quest, with research already established by billions of people [many of whom actually lived through the decade], an incredible amount of money at stake…. and then the “puzzles” all turned out to be incredibly easy? The main character, FIVE YEARS into the game, is the very first person to ever think about pulling up a surface map? That’s literally how he finds the first clue – he pulls up a generic map and scans for the given clue.
Now, the world. Every time Cline tried to make the world more believable he actually made it less so.
If he had just been like “yea the world is a shit hole and look, money is at stake so everyone plays this could-have-been-cooler game non-stop” I could have gone along with that.
But when you write ignorant crap like:
The ongoing energy crisis contributed greatly to the OASIS’s runaway popularity., I don’t even know what to say.
So let’s all read that sentence again. A game you need constant electricity and a very stable, fast internet connection for was aided by….the energy crisis. Billions of people are spending 16+ hours on this game every single day and that’s not a problem for the energy crisis?
People had to move into megacities because cars, airplanes, and buses are all basically a thing of the past just 25 short years from now…but no one appears to have really gone back to farming and you can still get pizza and high end toys from the other side of the earth like it’s no big deal. Yes, you read this review correctly. You cannot catch a local bus, but you can still order Kawaii toys. There is even 10 full pages of what I’m just going to call “tech porn.” It is 10 pages of gadget descriptions that have literally nothing to add to the story and which could have been completely edited out by the sentence “he had all of the best tech money could buy.”
Oh and water. Available water is a problem right now in many, many places but apparently no problem 25 years into our future. The next world war is more likely to be fought over water than anything else, but okay.
I could go on for days about why I hated this book – I’ve literally never written more notes about, or highlighted a book more, than this one – but I’ll leave it with one last thing.
I wanted to like this book. I thought the premises was cool. A lot of my Goodreads friends liked it. I like video games and comics and (some) ’80s movies. And even when I started not liking it I was actively looking for it’s redeeming qualities because I was under the (mistaken) impression that a good friend of mine liked it a lot and I wanted to share that fondness with him.
I fought to like this book, but its repetitiveness, ignorance, and aggressive un-originality won out.