My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wade Watts lives in a high-rise made up of relocatable homes, that teeters above a dirty grimy 2044 world. Like most people on the planet, he lives most of his life inside the Oasis – a virtual world where he goes to school and socialises. Ten years ago, the inventor of the Oasis, James Halliday, died leaving no heir. Halliday left riddles littered through the Oasis that contain clues to winning the biggest prize of all – complete control of Oasis and Halliday’s huge fortune.
This novel took a little while to get going but, once the rules were established and I allowed myself to become immersed in its world, I strapped myself in and went along for the roller coaster ride.
If you are a child of the 80s, you will find many points of reference here. Games, music, movies, books – the whole 80s zeitgeist is used in so many ways it’s hard to count them all. Everything from the music of Rush, to PacMan, to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, to Family Ties and so much more.
There is great tension created as Wade (as his avatar Parzival) makes his progress through the game and runs up against friends (the awesome Art3mis and the loyal Aech) and enemies (Nolan Sorrento, head of the rival gaming company; Sixers; Shoto and Daito) in his quest to be the first through the third gate in the game. As someone who left “real” gaming behind years ago, it has made me quite nostalgic about the old days of Galaga and Frogger and Space Invaders that were my first video game experiences.
The stakes are incredibly high because if Sorrento and his minions (the scary Sixers) gain control the Oasis will change forever and be unavailable to all but the highest bidders. The fabric of Wade’s society is built around Oasis and reliant on its egalitarian ideals to continue.
It is difficult to say much more without revealing spoilers, but I can say this novel has some great messages to impart about friendship, about knowing people on the inside, about how appearances can be deceiving, and mostly about self-belief and self-worth.
It has been described, accurately, as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix”. I just loved it, and I can’t wait to see the movie Stephen Spielberg makes of it. He just bought the rights and that is really exciting.
Recommended for ages 13 and up, and especially for children of the 80s.