An interesting premise and 80s tribute, but ultimately filthy and unsatisfying.
WARNING: This review contains content which may disturb readers.
It's 2044, and the world has gone badly downhill. The planet is polluted, natural energy resources depleted and people live in trailer parks 15 stories high. For many, including our protagonist Wade, the only escape is into a virtual world, the OASIS.
When OASIS creator James Halliday dies, he leaves his fortune and total control of the game to anyone who can collect three hidden keys and pass three gates in order to find the hidden 'easter egg' in his game. But after five years of searching based on Halliday's first clue, the world has mostly forgotten about the Hunt.
That is until Wade finds the first key and his name appears at the top of the Hunt's Scoreboard. Now he's in a race to find the rest of the clues, facing off against rival avatars as well as an enormous corporation that is willing to do anything -- even kill -- to seize control of the OASIS. Wade must make his way through a series of 80s videogame and pop culture references if he is to beat his opponents to the ultimate prize.
The evil corporation IOI cheats and murders in their attempts to win the contest. Of course, by the end of the story, our protagonists are using some of the same tactics (not murder). Characters lie, hack into government and corporate systems and buy items on the online black market.
We are told that Wade's belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and God were shattered at an early age as he grew up and learned while playing OASIS. The game's creator is said to have been an atheist. A woman named Mrs. Gilmore who is one of Wade's neighbors is a Christian and always kind to him, and he always speaks of her positively, but this seems to have no actual impact on his character or beliefs. 1 Corininthians 13 is mentioned, as are some Catholic saints, but only as people try to solve a clue. Members of a band are referred to as "the Holy Trinity and "the Gods of the North". In one of the simulations, he must lay an object upon a type of altar. Wade believes that he will become nothing once he dies. One of the clues made available to the prize hunters is a copy of Halliday's journal, called Anorak's Almanac (Anorak being the name of Halliday's avatar). This book is referenced by chapter and verse, like Scripture. There are several references to wizards, spells, various monsters and Dungeons and Dragons tabletop games. References are also made to in-game divination spells to determine the properties of an item.
There is a great deal of in-game violence, of an action nature, and some battle scenes. The most detailed action sequence involves large fighting robots. Character's avatars (their in-game personas) are killed, with the understanding that they can create a new character, though they will lose all their items and experience points. Even so, the digital action can be chilling, such as one time when Wade describes going aboard the vessel of a group that tried to attack his ship and killing everyone on board because he was in a bad mood that day.
Outside the game, a character is attacked in his home and thrown from a balcony. Corporate police invade another apartment to take a person into indentured servitude. A painful ear piecing bleeds heavily when the piercing item is removed.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Drug use and meth labs are common in the trailer parks, and we are told that Wade's aunt is often high.
This section contains mild spoilers.
We are told that Wade's mother worked in a virtual brothel. There is mention of people in the game meeting and getting married online without ever having met in real life (It is unclear whether these marriages are legally recognized.) Wade is attracted to another character in the game and declares his love for her. Mention is made of pornography and celebrity sex tapes. Two references are made to getting laid. At one point Wade purchases an anatomically correct doll that interfaces with the game and makes use of it while visiting a virtual brothel, though we are not given the actual scene. Wade gets rid of the doll, declaring it no better than a form of masturbation, and proceeds into a discussion of that topic, mentioning that the game's creator believed it was a healthy practice and names three or four famous scientists he believes practiced it. Two insults are used that refer to oral sex. Another involves masturbation. Another insult involves male genitalia. A character's username includes reference to male genitalia. A man is said to be smuggling something inside prosthetic genitalia. One of the characters is revealed to be a homosexual. Two characters are called fags. Lasers shoot out of a robot's breasts. A reference is made to "rolling around in glass in my birthday suit" and later a character is stripped of their virtual interface gear and mentioned to be naked underneath.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
Ready Player One really doesn't ever stop with the profanity, and it's tiresome. Apesh*t is used once; a**: 29 times, a**hat: three times, a**hole: five times, b*lls: three times, b*****d: 12 times, b******t: seven times; b*tt: once, cr*p: 11 times; d**k: once, hell: 36 times; p*ssed: 11 times, pu**y: once; sc**w: five times, sh*t: 31 times, sh*t-heap: twice, sh*tstorm: once, nine variations of f**k. A rude alternate name is given to the company workers trying to solve the contest. Other mentions of shouted profanity are made. God and Christ are both used as expletives on more than one occasion. A reference is made to a laxative. Characters give others the finger more than once. A reference is made to wiping one's behind. Another is made to vomit, urine, and semen.
The concept of this story is intriguing, and the 80s references are fun for someone who grew up during that decade. The characters are believable. A good point is made about the dangers of immersing oneself in a virtual world and forgetting to live in the real one. Cooperation and teamwork also play a part in the story.
With that said, I found the book far too inundated with filth to be an enjoyable read, and didn't find the ending particularly satisfying. Too much is left open-ended, and I was left with very little sense of hope at the end of a story that desperately needed some. Nor, I must admit, did I feel any particular sense of wonder in most of the world the author and Halliday had created, and in a game comprised of thousands of worlds, there ought to have been more of that. This is one of those books I wish I'd set down after a few pages.