Maybe I’m turning into a curmudgeon. Maybe it’s my winter blues. Maybe my expectations were way too high and I expected far too much. Whatever the reason, I just could not stay excited about this book. It seemed to me that everyone was raving about this nostalgic and brilliant literary triumph. I couldn’t believe it managed to fly under my radar and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. What I actually found was a flat, predictable story that consisted of one deux ex machina after the other.
Brief Synopsis: It’s 2044 and the world is in social, environmental and financial shambles. Most of humanity spends its time inside OASIS–a virtual reality simulator that allows each user to be anyone and go anywhere in cyberspace. Before his death, the creator of OASIS, James Halliday (think Steve Jobs type figure), hid an egg somewhere inside the OASIS universe that would reward his fortune and company upon the user who found it first. Wade Watts, aka Parzival, and his fellow gunters (egg hunters) devote their lives to finding the egg. They immerse themselves in the ’80s pop culture and geek trivia that Halliday loved in life, hoping to find clues to aid their search. When Wade becomes the first person to stumble across the first key after years of searching, he enters into a fight to the finish and a fight for his life.
Rating: 2/5 stars
Overall impression: By all accounts I should have loved this book. Dystopia? Check. Geek Culture? Check. Child of the ’80s? Check. It was just so painful to read. My two stars are a nod to a concept that I think is brilliant. It had so much potential but fell horribly flat. I wanted to love it, but the writer in me cringed on almost every page. When I read the premise for this story, I thought the ’80s nostalgia would be woven masterfully throughout like a golden thread holding everything together. Turns out the nostalgia is crudely dumped anywhere it will fit just for the hell of it.
WARNING: There is a high potential for spoilers beyond this point. This part of the review is generally for people who have already read the book and are looking for someone who agreed or disagreed with their own opinion.
My biggest issues:
- The characters are as flat and bland as cardboard. We’re inside Wade’s head and yet I get no sense of him as a person. His aunt is murdered and he keeps it moving. Yeah, it wasn’t the best relationship, but he feels/thinks nothing about it? He’s in love with Art3mis and we only know it because he tells us over and over and over and over and over.
- Speaking of “over and over,” there’s far too much telling, not enough showing. The story jumps from one info dump to the next with zero regard for character or plot development. At one point, there are at least 3 pages dedicated to Wade’s morning routine. And another 3 pages dedicated to how he uses his computer… right down to adjusting the brightness and contrast of the screen. Not joking.
- As mentioned above, name dropping for the sake of name dropping. A Lord of the Rings reference here. Some Star Trek there. Sprinkle it with some Cyndi Lauper. Publish.
- My new favorite word: deux ex machina. I knew a word had to exist for this phenomenon and I’m so glad I found it. Deux ex machina: whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Of everything I took issue with in the story, this is the one that drove me up a wall. Did I mention that Wade is a 007 level secret agent who also happens to be a master hacker? That’s because HE’S NOT. He’s a high school kid who has lived almost his entire life in a trailer, never leaving his hometown. Yet SOMEHOW, he’s able to hack government files, create new identities for himself, infiltrate the enemy, hack the enemy’s internal files, steal what he needs to win the game, and make it back out again without EVER GETTING CAUGHT. He and his three “best friends” are in grave danger of getting murdered in real life by the enemy? NO PROBLEM! The OASIS co-founder just so happens to regularly hang out INVISIBLY in their PRIVATE chatroom. You kids have gumption. I’m sending my private jets to pick all of you up right now. You’ll be safe at my mansion. There are many many more instances like this, but I’m going to leave it at that.