I’d been working at Books & Books for almost four years when a co-worker came up to me and said, “Man, Gary Gygax died.”
“Aw… ” I said, then, “Wait – why do I know that name?”
He grinned at me.
“Because you’re a fucking loser.”
Gary Gygax invented Dungeons & Dragons; I should have known immediately, but I hadn’t played for a couple of decades. My father was my first Dungeon Master; my brother, sister, and I formed the Party. Dad had a gift for names (Joseph “Holy Joe” Aislewalker the Cleric was one of my favorites) but we all felt a little self-conscious following the rules which encouraged us to act out our characters. Our family stuck to Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit after one or two sessions, but when I introduced my friends to it we got hooked.
We campaigned for years, crashing at each-other’s houses on the weekends, drinking gallons of soda, eating tons of pizza, and laughing at the movies where devil worshipping teens killed each-other because of D&D (or killed themselves because their character died). A couple of my classmates did kill themselves, but they did it drunk driving after one of those awesome keggers I missed. By comparison, I’d say my time with orcs and elves was time well spent.
What makes Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One special is that it opens doors to things you haven’t just forgotten long ago, but that you’ve forgotten you forgot, doors to things like D&D’s Ravenloft campaign, They Might be Giants’ “Don’t Let’s Start,” or Swordquest. The last time I thought of the Talisman of Penultimate Truth, I lived with my parents, I hadn’t French kissed a girl, and the coolest person I’d ever met was my big brother AJ. Seeing those words strung together tickled something in my brain, a childlike wonder that made reading Ready Player One more fun than it had any right to be. Anybody can throw a Rubik’s Cube or a Flock of Seagulls haircut at you to reference the 80s, but Cline delves much deeper; he must have kept every journal he ever wrote for some of this stuff.
Page Against the Machine has members from twenty five to fifty who all enjoyed Ready Player One, so don’t think you need to be an 80s child or some kind of pop culture expert to enjoy the ride. On the few occasions when the references feel overwhelming, you don’t get angry with Cline for trying because so many references make you smile. The characters are a bit stock, like the obligatory love interest and the corporate villain, but Wade is a charming host, the casual glimpses into our cyberpunk future are unsettling, and frankly, once the Quest takes hold of your attention any weaknesses melt away. You’re hooked until the end (a very gratifying end, by the way).
If you want a book that grabs you by the waistband, hoists you into an A-wing, and blasts you into space, then Ready Player One is the page-turner you’ve been looking for.