Haijin is a Japanese word that literally means “cripple,” but it colloquially refers to gamers who spend so much time playing that their alternate realities take precedence over the real world. Imagine a world where this is the norm. After all, virtual weddings and virtual funerals have existed in role-playing games such as World of Warcraft for years. Take this premise, add in an impressive knowledge of 1980s pop culture factoids and an apocalyptic setting, and you have Ready Player One, the debut from Fanboys screenwriter Ernest Cline.
It’s the year 2044. Wade Watts’ life is beyond desolate, and he has little hope of rising above his poverty. Faced with such a bleak reality, nearly everyone spends their days logged into OASIS, the massive online paradise created by billionaire James Halliday. However, when Halliday died, he announced the beginning of the ultimate quest: somewhere deep within OASIS are clues that will lead one player to the entirety of Halliday’s estate. Five years have gone by, and no one seems to have gotten anywhere—until one day, Wade stumbles over the first puzzle. Immediately, the race is on, and while several other gamers are hot on Wade’s trail, the greatest threat is from the Sixers, those who are willing to kill to gain control of the OASIS.
Were it not for the massive wealth of ’80s facts and jokes, Ready Player One would have made a fantastic YA novel, with barebones prose, pubescent love and simplified outlines of the political and economic state of the world. However, those who grew up in the era and are able to appreciate the devotion Cline poured into his homage (much like James Halliday’s game itself) will find this novel to be endlessly entertaining. The puzzles are pure, unadulterated fun, and the arc of the story mirrors many of the movies referenced in the book. Best of all, there is a loveable nerdy undercurrent—after all, it turns out that the key to success is reading absolutely everything. Not to mention the subtle suggestion that while games and movies are awesome, it is also a good idea to go outside every once in a while.