Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS - and his massive fortune - will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions - and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.
Comment: This book has had good critics by some friends of mine and I got interested in reading it as well. I don't love sci-fi as a true fan does but I tend to appreciate a good story and I fully expected this one to be so.
The setting of this book is an American city in the year 2044, a time where the planet is more and more devastated by the environmental issues and problems caused by human action. Most people struggle to survive and pay for the things that seemed granted decades before.
However, in the era of scientific and virtual reality developments, there is one thing almost everyone gets immersed in to escape the harshness of their real lives, the online game OASIS, a well thought shared community people can access and live a double life. Everything is possible, there is something for everyone and there are countless "worlds" people can be part of.
The problem is that the creator of OASIS has died and in his will he left everything, including the rights for OASIS to the person who can win a game of looking for and finding a secret he left somewhere in the vast universe of his game. For years people have tried to find at least a clue but only now someone has found something...Wade.
The difficulty is to stay away from the IOI, a company that ruthlessly wants to take over the millions of OASIS but that would be the end of the free membership... can Wade and a group of friends defeat the all powerful IOI before the beauty of OASIS is lost for those who rely on it?
Honestly, the best element of this whole story has to be the amazing imagination of the author by picking so many possibilities and turning them into meaningful steps to create such a virtual reality concept as is the OASIS. I'm not a gamer myself so the conversations about how to best play a certain game online and related issues didn't really interest me. But the fact the OASIS is like a whole society one can access online seems quite likely when one thinks about social media and networks like we have already. In the story things are just taken several steps further and there's a complete set of worlds. I specifically liked how imaginative it was to create an online school where the students avatars go to virtual school and that is acceptable and legal.
Another interesting aspect is how the author used the 80s as his play field and there are countless references, quotes, notes and so on about the decade. It's also a very important feature for the quest the characters need to embark on, so I think the author did a very good job in mixing what can be the next step in gaming and online activity and what it was when it first started to be part of people's lives. I admit I lost some references but they do seem well inserted in the plot.
Of course we have the "moral lesson" content, which is shown two ways: how being online all the time can be negative to real human interactions and how the world is setting things up to allow it and, at the same time, and how greedy but powerful companies acquire the control of everything, making people a sort of online slave.
Of course the first point is a given and the author doesn't try to influence the reader (I didn't feel it, personally) which I thought was a good way to let everyone have their own minds. On the second point, it's clear we are supposed to think beyond what marketing let us be aware of...all big companies rely on control and when just one person or group has the majority of that control over anything, how can it be truly fair for the common person? Although this aspect wasn't presented as aggressively as one could expect, it's there and (to me) the biggest conflict in the book is how fair and legal can things be when only one entity benefits from it. Even in real life, it an be scary how much of our life depends on one or a set of groups...
I think the little lessons in friendship and self awareness and even how to be a good person are details to be expected and the author didn't disappoint. I had fun reading this, it's not a overly violet book, it does make you think but I also would say some steps were a bit too much while some descriptions lost me.
I suppose for hard core fans of science fiction and dystopia or even 80s revivalists and gamers it presents several issues but for me, who only read it for the different plot and story, it worked out pretty well.