Wade Watts is a teenager growing up in a future America where the world has suffered a great recession, energy reserves have been depleted, and poverty is the norm. People increasingly spend time hooked up to OASIS, a massively multiplayer online simulation game, a version of life that is much more pleasant than 2044 reality and feels nearly as real. Years earlier, when Wade was a kid, the creator of OASIS had died without heirs, leaving a will that amounts to a contest – the first player to collect three keys and pass through the matching gates in OASIS will his fortune and a controlling stake in the company. The book opens years later, when no one has found any of the keys. Wade tells us up front that he found the first key, and he proceeds to tell us the story of how that happened, and what happened after that.
This book is first and foremost an homage to the 1980s, particularly the geekish things of the 80s that are clearly near and dear to the writer’s heart. It is a delightful blend of genres - a quest adventure, a futuristic dystopian, a mystery, a coming-of-age story, and a thriller with a dash of romance, and it is a rollicking fun ride all the way to the conclusion. There isn’t a whole lot of character development going on, but I couldn’t bring myself to care all that much because it was such a gripping, engaging story.
My library files this in the adult science fiction section, but I didn’t realize it till I had nearly finished the book because it has such a YA feel to it. I think teens and adults would enjoy this equally. It should pique younger readers’ curiosity about many of the 80s books, movies, and video games that are mentioned, and it is a heart-warming blast from the past for those of us who actually lived through them. The only thing that irritated me about the book was the author’s list of seminal 80s books, which had either no or maybe one female author included. There were plenty of fantastic women writing speculative fiction then! Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.