So I know I said I wouldn't be reviewing long published books but oh my word I just had to for this one! Combining my love of dystopian and gaming, with a whole ton of geeky pop culture references it was probably the most perfect book for me!
The year is 2044, the world has burnt through it's fossil fuels and the effects of global warming has left the world in decline, many turn to drugs and crime to survive and to cope with the world around them. Tech giant James Halliday offers humanity an escape in "The Oasis" a virtual universe where you can pretty much do anything you want and mostly for free. When Halliday dies he has no heir to his vast fortune and announces to the world an elaborate game, the first to win and find his "easter egg" inherits everything. The game however is fiendish and after 5 years without a single clue answered, many have given up searching until one day, Wade Watts, becomes the first to enter the scoreboard and the race to win explodes back into everyone's lives.
I think it's safe to say I devoured this book! Whilst set in a future world, most of what takes place is within the Oasis itself as Wade is a "gunter" (an whittled down name for egg hunter) he dedicates his life to the search for the egg, living on a diet rich with 80's pop culture his knowledge is great enough to rival Halliday's himself. He is far from alone in this though, many are still searching and the race is on against corporate egg hunters, the Sixers, who want to take the egg purely for profiteering. I loved Wade as a character and whilst everything seems overwhelming for him the writing never feels so. You feel everything he goes through, willing him to solve each riddle, sharing his frustration at each dead end and his joy when something goes right. It's almost as if Wade becomes the readers avatar. The 80's references are many as well as throwbacks to all kinds of gaming which I loved and there was many a knowing smile and laugh out loud moment for me whilst reading. I loved how the solving of each puzzle was well laid out and researched (apart from the Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters that is) and how the story felt comfortable moving away from it's linear path, sometimes surprisingly so.
It's quite lacking in female avatars though which I think is a little sad, other than Art3mis it's pretty much a lad zone, which given that female gamers now make up over 40% (various sources) of the gaming populous makes it feel that the book was written for a male stereotype (and stereotyping crops up a lot). Not only is she the only female avatar but it feels like she is only there to be the "love interest" despite her being a formidable gunter. It's not all bad, she is pretty much the most kick ass of all of them but I just wished there was a more even presence. There is also sadly a fair bit of tokenism going on and I felt some minority groups were marginalised.
It didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book at the time which I read pretty much every opportunity I got, but now having had time to reflect I'm going to have to knock a star off for everything I mentioned above. If you grew up in, or have a good knowledge of the 1980's and have a thing for retro gaming this will tick a ton of boxes for you. If you didn't or don't, this is still a great adventure that will pull you in and you will likely discover a whole new world of games, films and TV that you may find yourself wanting to check out!