Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Audiobook Review: Ready Player One

Listened January 2014
4 Stars - Strongly recommended because Wil Wheaton and futurist America obsessed with the 80's, complete with full immersion rigs and Wil Wheaton and video game geeks taking on the corporate bad guys and WIL WHEATON, you guys!
Audio MP3 - 15+ hrs
Publisher: Random House Audio
Released: 2011

So I have a confession to make. I've had this book sitting in my TBR pile since the initial wave of ARCs were shipped out, way back when. While everybody and their brother read it and reviewed it and gushed all over it almost immediately, I let it lay there and continued to chip away at my small press review backlog. Not that I have anything against reviewing things at the exact same time as everyone else, or reading books by the Big Guys, cause I really don't. Or maybe I do, just a little. OK, okay, I admit it, I kinda hate reading main stream books at the same time as everyone else. There. I said it.  I totally prefer to shelve them and sit on them, and wait for them to come out on audio. What of it?!

Corporate Pubs like Random House always do such a nice job with their audiobooks, too. And since I've got a nice long hour and a half daily round trip commute to work, listening to a book is a welcome break from the same old top 10 songs on the local radio station rotations. So when I saw Downpour.com had a super reasonable audio mp3 of Ready Player One, I knew the time was right to snag it and start listening. Oh, and did I mention that Wil Wheaton narrates? So yeah. There's that. (It's pure perfection.)

As the book opens, we are thrown into a dingy future America of uber crowded cities and trashy mini trailer park "stacks" lined up around their perimeters, of gigantic corporations growing always more gigantic, of the poor forever getting poorer. The only escape, especially for the American youth, is to seek solace in a video game-slash-alternate-reality called The Oasis.  The Oasis was created by a ground breaking video game designer named Halliday, whose will and testament was released to the world upon his recent death, uncovering a series of "hidden keys within the Oasis that will lead one lucky winner to an Easter Egg." The first person to discover the location of the Easter Egg will inherit Halliday's entire fortune, ultimately making them the richest person in the world.

A world-wide, frenzied hunt for the three keys ensues, and our narrator, 18 year old Wade Watts, joins the ranks of millions setting their sights on winning the contest. And after nearly 5 years of searching and studying, and relentlessly picking apart every bit of Halliday's life history, from his childhood video games to his favorite movies and music, Wade makes a breakthrough and becomes the first "Gunter" to find the Copper Key. This discovery, of course, renews everyone's search efforts and throws Wade and his group of friends head first into the heart of an exciting and extremely life-threatening race towards the Easter Egg and Halliday's billions.

While Ready Player One is very much a book for today's MMORPG video-gamer, it's also a wild and crazy homage to all things 80's. And while hard core gamers are going to find it easy to sink their teeth into this, it's incredibly difficult for me to imagine that Millennial readers will be able to truly appreciate the retro-ness of it all. Hell, I grew up on Atari 2600 and clearly remember fighting over the joystick with my siblings and cousins to play the ridiculously green pixellated Space Invaders and Asteroids. And I remember spending hours in front of my Commodore 64, which was basically a keyboard that plugged right into your TV and came with gigantic boxy cartridge "text driven" games like Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and The Oregon Trail. And as we got older, and started asserting our freedom, there was nothing quite like meeting a group of your pals and chilling out at the arcade killing a couple of hours playing coin operated video games like Pac-Man. All of these retro games, and more, get shout-outs in Ernest Cline's novel.

As the video games slowly became more sophisticated, I lost interest and began coming into my own as a reader. Though my nose was always in a book, my eyes were locked onto awesome movies likes The Goonies and Rocky Horror Picture Show and War Games, which are also paid their due in Ready Player One, and my ears were tuned in to all of the alternative music of that generation.

As Wil Wheaton read from RPO's pages and told me all about Wade's trials and tribulations in the Oasis, I lost myself in wave after wave of nostalgic memories. Hilariously geeky in all the right ways, Ready Player One is a must read for all of you aging 30-something Gen-Xer's. And the all-things-80's obsessiveness of the book will keep you non-gamers locked in from word one. I promise.

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