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80s Geeks: Meet The Novel of Your Dreams at WRT: Writer Response Theory

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3 words for your end-of-summer reading: “READY PLAYER ONE.”

Ready Player OneFrom the 8-bit aesthetic of the novel’s cover (or at least the promotional copy) to a mention of Family Ties, Dead Man’s Party, and Galaga within the first 25 pages, “Fanboys” director Ernie Cline’s first novel is like a love letter to adolescent male geek culture of the 1980s or, more simply put, to me. It is destined to become the not-so-guilty pop-rocks and Pepsi reading of the end of the summer and will no doubt inspire rhapsodic talks at academic conferences and nostalgia-fests on message boards.

The premise is simple: in 2044, James Halliday, the gazillionaire creator of an online virtual world called Oasis,has died, but his last will and testament video has presented the real world with a hunt for the keys to his fortune. Inspired by the Easter Egg in Atari’s Adventure, and the structure of that game, he has hidden 3 keys to 3 gates.

What makes READY PLAYER ONE so much fun is one more feature of this quest: Halliday was completely obsessed with 1980s pop culture. So the more you know about the 1980s, the more likely you will solve his riddles and the cooler readers will feel for, say, knowing what the cover of the AD&D Player’s Handbook looks like.

I couldn’t put it down primarily because of my own 80s obsessions and because the Willy Wonka/Ender’s Game story framework gives the plot a video game structure, where characters literally fight over their spot on the leader board and level up. I have reason to believe an ARG is in the works to help promote the book — but really, you will be vector enough for this book’s pandemic.

At this point, I will resist making any literary judgments — just as I did when reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But if you ever dreamt of owning a DeLorean (like Cline himself), played Ultraman in your driveway, blew a stack of quarters on Pac-Man, or have a special Netflix cue for John Hughes films, you are more than ready for READY PLAYER ONE.

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