Ready Player One
I actually read this book awhile back but I've always wanted to comment on its brilliance - and if I'm being super honest I've been behind on my reading of Thinking Fast and Slow of Daniel Kahneman (I don't think my System 1 and 2 are getting along very well lately) so think of this as a microwave meal that is going to taste great.
Most people probably know the movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring the young Cyclops from the kind-of-cool X-men series. It was supposed to be a big deal (I recall it did quite well in theaters but didn't become the second Avatar as some people hyped it up to be), but it came out right around the time I thought I was done with Sci-Fi and moving on to more adult things like investment banking, so I passed on it. I distinctly remember my brother saying the movie wasn't great and I should check out the book instead - he actually read the book over three times and used it for multiple book reports (my mom wasn't the biggest fan of this practice but hey if it gets the grades it works).
Fast forward to April 2020 - we remember those dark times. I was on instagram 24/7, drawing people during my free time and posting it on my Story, taking on bike riding because the gym was closed and the stock market was gloomy. Everyone was actively trying to find some form of an introvert hobby and it hit me that I used to like reading. In fact, I loved reading and it was how I learned English (quite literally) in elementary school alongside watching Suite Life of Zack and Cody (I have a very animated tone all the time because of this). The book that happened to be on my highschool bedroom desk was Ready Player One and all my banking deals died that week, so I had all day. Since the days of Junie B Jones and Horrible Harry, I actually don't recall the last time I finished a book in one sitting. Ready Player One did it for me.
The book is by no means for "kids" - in fact, I think its target audience might be my parents' generation of folks who recall their childhood and what we now describe "retro" culture. 90% of the references in the book went over my head, but this doesn't really matter for you to enjoy the book. In ways, it's your typical sci-fi novel - there's a main character who's the most generic title character ever, a highschool boy who comes from a poor background looking to strike it rich and gain power through a virtual world. But the excitement and the inability to let this book go doesn't come from the world building or the numerous references of past cultural aspects, but how Ernest Cline manages to flow the reader through the various stages of the book.
major spoilers from here
In a rather meta fashion, the book itself is broken into stages of Wade Watts' journey to becoming the rule of the Oasis, the virtual world everyone considers to be the real world. He needs to solve the puzzles stage by stage, with folks joining his team and collaborating to level up together. I do admit that this was probably during a phase in my life where I was the most bored I've ever been in 23 years and I was so used to reading textbooks that the excitement that came with a typical "hero's journey" might have been amplified, but it was refreshing. And Cline doesn't stall or pull some "Rey is actually a Palpatine" move - every aspect of the book is well explained, conflicts are resolved quickly and efficiently and unless you're a super hardo, there seems to be no plot holes. From the start, everyone can assume the ending - there aren't many major plot twists or points of shock outside of a couple "easter egg" moments (if you read the book you'll understand this reference in more ways than one). In a world where so many science fiction stories aggressively try to world build and leave loose ends to "expand the universe" (looking at you Mickey Mouse), Ready Player One does a great job as a standalone and the anxiety of needing to understand every detail is gone. You really feel like you're Wade Watts and there's closure to his success.
I fully recognize that there's a Ready Player Two (heard mixed feelings on this one) but I still stand firm on my stance. And I don't blame Cline for doing this either after his 2011 book success and massive movie deal in 2018 - if it pays the bill it pays the bills! I don't plan on reading the second one because I want to believe Wade's journey (to the extent that the world needs to know about it in detail) came to a close and I look forward to imagining how he'll pass on his Oasis "throne."