***WARNING: Mild Overshare Ahead ***
There, inside the game's two-dimensional universe, life was simple: It's just you against the machine. Move with your left hand, shoot with your right, and try to stay alive as long as possible.
Au contraire, amigo. My ex-boyfriend tried to get me in on World of Warcraft back in the day and it really isn't that simple for someone who has the motor coordination of a humanoid, flailing balloon. I'm more of the Super Mario Kart gamer than WoW, I fear.
But I did spend ludicrous hours playing Final Fantasy. No not VII which has the street cred of awesomeness but VIII… the one with the cheesy love story, Squall Leonhart and his pretty furs. And I always had quirky interests as a kid and had my daily dose of Japanese sentai shows and mecha anime after school. Shoujo came much much later. And I did love Alex Keaton.
Why am I telling you all these things about me? Because I think those may be the very reasons I stuck around and actually enjoyed this book more than I expected.
True, the blurb should have drawn me to read this earlier but I'm more of a 90's kid and as expected a lot of the 80's pop culture references (except for the anime and the Ultraman… gad, Ultraman!) flew right over my head. But the story is told through the POV of an absolute geek. You know, the kind that gives the very detailed description of everything about a game, TV show, movie etc. just so he could show you how awesomely geeky he is? So you get a vague picture of what he's talking about then sends you to youtube or wikipedia to search whatever he is talking about (I admit to doing this several times here).
Meet Wade Watts (aka Parzival) your pilot for this crazy ride into a magical realm called OASIS. A virtual world created by James Halliday where people escape to, from the despairing reality of life.
There's no evidence of a heaven and there never was. We made that up too. Wishful thinking. So now you have to live the rest of your life knowing you're going to die someday and disappear forever.
None of that in OASIS. Think the internet but you can walkthrough it, go to school, meet friends, own a planet, have an imaginary life with a made up, anonymous avatar… and nobody loves escaping to OASIS more than Wade.
I liked Wade, initially. He's the underdog in the worldwide, 5-years in the running quest to win James Halliday's billion dollar fortune: he's poor, he's an orphan, he's a level 3 nobody. He's freaking No.9 Privet Drive Harry Potter pre-Hagrid, of course I'm rooting for him to win the whole shebang.
I felt like a kid standing in the world's greatest video arcade without any quarters, unable to do anything but walk around and watch the other kids play.
That may or may not have elicited a sob from me, because damn that's a sad picture.
Then midway through, he just stopped connecting with me. Like everything got too convenient. When confronted with a conflict, Wade starts to spout off detailed ramblings about the subject at hand that you don't need to root for him anymore because you feel he has this in the bag anyway. Then he somehow lacks any other emotions apart from his crush on Art3mis and his obsession with Halliday that certain tragedies didn't elicit the response I was anticipating from him. I guess it's keeping in character, but it didn't make a fan out of me as he sometimes came off arrogant and reckless when dealing with his opponents. He did redeem some of his humanity towards the end, particularly in the real life scenes which I wish had a little more space devoted for because it was equally intriguing the dystopian fan in me.
The sequences within the OASIS were truly amazing, how it pushed my imagination to the concept of flicksyncs and physical chartrooms sent me into fits of giggles. It literally felt my brain was exploding with little bombs of childhood memories. I mean, Voltron and Mechagodzilla versus a Gundam, a girly Mazinger Z and Ultraman at one point?!
However, this book isn't an easy ride to get on to. I seriously cannot recommend this to everyone without giving them a pop quiz. Not 80's trivia quiz, because that's pretty obvious with the blurb but more along the lines of a concentration quiz or that ball under the cup test where there's 10 cups and 3 balls of different color, each you need to keep track of.
Or maybe just ask yourself how well can you keep your focus imagining how a spaceship from an obscure Japanese anime you have no clue of looks like while wrapping your head around the fact that everything that's happening is within a virtual reality universe and the actual reality is a dystopian world where people live in stacked up trailers and where a vendo machine that dispenses guns and kevlar vests exists?
Oh and Will Wheaton is Vice President of something. Score, nerds!
This seriously gave my imagination a workout to the point of cramps. Should you be open-minded and brave enough to step up to the challenge of reading this unique, creative book, keep a banana handy.