Reviewed for the Autumn 2011 Journal of the British Fantasy Society
It’s 2045, but the ‘80s are back. Most of humanity’s time is spent in the OASIS, a massive multiplayer online game that’s become a globally networked virtual reality. Halliday, the powerful loner who created it, was a pop-culture obsessive who grew up in the 1980s. When he dies, he leaves a challenge – whoever finds and solves the hidden puzzles he’s programmed into the game will inherit his fortune and controlling stock of the OASIS.
In true John Hughes/Spielberg fashion, our good guys are a group of lovable misfit loners. They are obsessed with finding the puzzles and they’re in with a chance, because they have immersed themselves in the ‘80s ephemera that Halliday’s quest revived. They rule at clunky console games and know Bladerunner word-for-word, as well as the Bon Jovi back catalogue. This time the geeks really might inherit the world, so long as they get there before the corporate bad guys. The bad guys with big guns and no scruples, who want to sell advertising and charge for individuality.
As a gamer and an ‘80s child I couldn’t ask for more. The OASIS is shaped like a Rubik’s Cube, inter-world travel is by teleportation, and one of the puzzles requires an exact recreation of all Matthew Broderick’s dialogue in WarGames in order to win. Cline references the 90s, too – Firefly, Spaced and The Simpsons get cosy alongside Gaiman, Vonnegut, LadyHawke and Endor. If you loved that stuff, you’ll be racing through this novel and dusting off your VHS collection while you read. Will you enjoy this if the words Atari, Airwolf or DeLorean mean nothing to you? Maybe not. But I’m sure there’ll be enough of us geeks out there to make it a best-seller.