I have a (perhaps wholly un-revelatory) confession to make: deep down, I’m a bit of a geek. In day-to-day life, my geek status is somewhat hidden (my shoe collection is effective camouflage). But I am not ashamed.
The thing I geek out most over is puzzles. Logic puzzles, word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games. You name it. I am currently the world champion (yes, #1 in the entire world) in Floris, a delightful Tetris-esque video game. This is a fact that my husband and brother (the two people in real life aside from the game’s creator who knew this fact prior to my writing this post) deride me for mercilessly. But I own it. They have tried to beat me. They can’t.
This book is right up my alley. If I am a small-scale geek, then author Ernest Cline is a huge, massive, unabashed mega-geek. And he has written a delightfully geeky book.
It’s 2044. America is deep in the throes of an all-out energy crisis. The suburbs have become “lawless badlands” as people have migrated to major cities, where power sources and public transportation and jobs exist.
Our protagonist, Wade Watts, is a teen orphan in his last year of high school. He lives with his aunt, her boyfriend, and twelve other people in a trailer in “The Stacks” (trailer parks where mobile homes are welded one on top of the next in columns 20 trailers high). The Stacks (like nearly all of America at this point) are depressing, and they are dangerous.
So, people escape. They escape to OASIS, Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, an online world created by super geeks James Holliday and Ogden Morrow.
Like many people, Wade spends nearly all of his waking hours in OASIS, as his avatar Parzival. He goes to school there, he works there, he socializes there.
Naturally, Wade becomes a “gunter,” and a talented one at that. A gunter is an “egg hunter.” For those non-geeks out there, Easter eggs are messages or levels or jokes hidden in video games or books or movies (Disney is famous for hiding Easter eggs in its movies—remember freeze-framing The Lion King until you could see where “SEX” was written in the stars? That was an Easter egg. Here is a list Buzzfeed compiled of several others). But the Easter egg that gunters are searching for isn’t just an inside joke.
Gunters in the OASIS are searching for a $240 BILLION egg.
You see, when OASIS co-creator Halliday dies, he leaves behind a video will that is broadcast to all OASIS users. In Halliday’s final years, he created and coded a complex tri-leveled Easter egg hunt in the OASIS. Whoever finds the egg first wins all of Halliday’s money and a controlling share in GSS, the company that owns OASIS.
Wade and his fellow gunters (some of whom he befriends) are looking for three keys: one copper, one jade, and one crystal. To find each key, gunters must solve a riddle that hints at the key’s location. To get the key and open the accompanying gate, gunters must perform (über-geeky) tasks. And gunters are racing against the Sixers, egg hunters hired by evil corporation IOI, which wants the egg so it can control GSS and further commercialize OASIS and exploit its users.
I won’t give away any of the riddles or tasks, but I will say that the book is positively laden with fun 80’s pop-culture references. Halliday was a lover of the 80’s (as is Ernest Cline, obviously), so gunters study Family Ties and John Hughes movies and Pac-Man and AC/DC like it’s their job in order to be prepared for any task Halliday created.
Rating: 4/5 🎮
This is one of those books that has been sitting on my Kindle for over a year now. For whatever reason, I kept passing it over. But I should have read it much sooner. The whole thing is about an elaborate 80’s pop-culture driven puzzle, after all. I mean, come on.
If you’re not into the 80’s or video games, and you’re not at least a little bit geeky, then this is decidedly not for you.
But if you are, then you should read it. There’s a little bit of suspense, a little bit of action, a little bit of romance, a little bit of sci-fi, and a whole lot of fun. It’s Cline’s creative love letter to 80’s pop culture (mostly early video games and geeky cult-classic movies).
Who should read it: my husband (i.e., people who know that Joust is an old video game where you control a knight riding a big flying ostrich); Andy, the creator of the aforementioned Floris (i.e., people who geek-out over video games and can appreciate the creativity and skill it would take to create this kind of Easter egg hunt).
One final note: It’s too late to participate, but this is too ridiculously hilarious and geeky not to share. When the paperback was released in 2012, Cline announced that all of the non-electronic formats of the book had an Easter egg hidden in them. The Easter egg was a web address to the first of three challenges similar to those in the book. The grand prize? Not $240 billion, but a super geeked-out Delorean.
Here is the announcement. Please watch it. It is the only possible way for you to appreciate just how amazingly geeky Cline is: