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by Ernest Cline.

5*
 In a not-too-distant dystopian future, with the climate and economy in ruins, where most of the American population live in high-rise trailer parks called ‘Stacks’, the only escape from grim reality is a vast virtual reality state called OASIS. The creator of OASIS has just died, leaving his entire two hundred and forty billion dollar fortune to the first person to crack the clues and find the Easter Egg. The creator’s avatar is called Anorak, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about what follows. If you, like me, are a bit of an Anorak yourself, you’re sure to love ‘Ready Player One’.

I’m not at all surprised the film rights have already been sold, it’s a very filmatic book – actually one of its weakest points as a novel, especially during the graphically detailed descriptions of vid-game battles, which do go on a bit. I imagine, if you, like the author, had spent your teenage years playing these games, these chapters would have a certain nostalgic thrill, but for me, they held everything up like crazy and I found myself speed reading for most of them. Another small irritation is the way Cline mirrors the movies in having his characters pause for lengthy, expositionary conversations, when they should be doing something, usually something really important – “Flash, I love you – but we only have 14 hours to save the world!” – It could be an intentional reference, but it was damn annoying when you’re desperate to move on to the next piece of the puzzle.

But these are just small quibbles. The plot is terrific and the online-world Cline creates is a giant total-immersion experience of 80’s pop and gamer culture. The story of our hero, Wade, and his online friends as they quest for the egg and battle the evil-Dick Dastardly IOI corporation, from first encounter to the ultimate ‘Game Over You Win!’ end is almost impossible to put-down.

Along the way, the references are sprayed, Banksy-like, over a fast-shifting narrative which is vast and epic, twisting and turning like a twisty turny thing. Arthur Dent, Rush’s “twenty-one twelve”, Star Wars, War Games, Ferris Bueller, Galaga, Everquest, World of Warcraft, LOTR, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, the Rubik’s cube – the references just keep coming; the appearance of Graham Chapman’s Arthur, trotting along to Patsy’s coconut shells (an African or a European swallow?) was the final, epic cherry on my cake. From the Dungeons and Dragons opening to the Atari Adventure (Nerd Note: Warren Robinett, who created this game, added in the first ever Easter Egg) end, I was in Geek heaven.

I loved every minute of it. I wonder if Simon Pegg has read this novel? If not, he should, he’d love it, and if you loved Spaced, so will you.

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