The story takes place 30 years from now, in a somewhat generic dystopia. Wade Watts lives in a trailer stack with his hateful aunt. Life sucks, so he spends most of his time logged in to the OASIS – a virtual reality world that started life as a MMO game and is now used for everything from schooling to business transactions. The man who created the OASIS, James Halliday, left in his will 240 billion dollars to anyone who could find his hidden easter egg. He was obsessed with the 80s, so the easter egg hunters study all media from that decade in an attempt to search for hints that will lead them to their fortune. Wade Watts is one of those hunters.
One issue I had right away is that I just didn’t like the main characters very much. They were major geek wish-fulfillment in the worst way, and it came off a little douchey. During one conversation, Wade Watts and his best friend were explaining obscure gaming trivia to someone at a party. They fist-bumped throughout the conversation, and when Wade finished with a particularily stunning fact, they ‘double high fived’ and the crowd around them burst into applause. I wish I was joking.
New rule: one fist-bump maximum per conversation, and no double high five-ing ever.
Born in the early 80s, I was young enough to not really know what was going on in the world of music until later, and my movie knowledge was probably limited to The Goonies and Indiana Jones, but I was somewhat current on a lot of games during the later half of the decade. It’s a little strange to me that someone would write a young adult novel that focuses so heavily on nostalgia for a decade that young adults wouldn’t have even been born in, let alone lived through, and the novel really suffers from that. Almost all of the 80s references are painstakingly explained in detail, which takes all of the fun out of catching them yourself. Can you really be nostalgic about something that you need explained? While a few of the references are incoporated into the plot in a fun way, that majority are just listed out. Like literally listed out, at one point. In five minute long lists.
I think this book may have rubbed me the wrong way partly because I’m growing a bit tired of nostalgia lately. I love, with all my heart, the video games and movies of my childhood, but it feels like geek culture has become all about looking back. So much media just seems to be fan service. The reason we have all this cool stuff to fondly look back on is because geeks weren’t stuck in the past back then. All this nostalgia does not bode well for future entertainment.
Despite all my negativity, I did enjoy this book. I may be hating on nostalgia, but I do still get the warm tinglies when someone mentions John Hughes or Yars Revenge. Wil Wheaton’s narration, something I figured was going to eventually wear on me, was also fantastic. I look forward to listening to more from him.