This book came with big recommendation from my sister, and since the movie rights have been sold already and Steven Spielberg will direct the movie, I thought it would give the book a try. After all, it was all about video games, easter eggs and all things eighties, several topics I am quite fond of. What isn’t there for me to like?
That being said, I felt like I did not necessarily like the book as much I expected to. I am not saying that I did not like it, parts of it were great. This book, especially in the first third, is filled to the brim with nerdy references.
One of the first big thing is an old but notorious Dungeon and Dragon campaign called “The Tomb of Horrors”. Any self respecting role playing game adventurer knows that The tomb of Horrors is the quickest way to make all your friends hate you due to its legendary difficulty. When that was mentioned in the book, I was thrilled. It made me feel like being part of the in-group who knew exactly what the author was talking about right on spot. Another such reference was about an old atari contest called SwordQuest (if you want to know more about SwordQuest, the Angry Video Game Nerd did a great video about it a few year ago).
Same thing, the moment I read the words I knew exactly where things were going. The author also reference older games consoles Like the ColecoVision and the Mattel electronic Intellivision, two competitor to the Atari 2600 and other cool arcade factoid like the Pacman perfect game score. Knowing all these somewhat esoteric things before having read the book sure rubbed my nerd pride the right way.
On the flip side however, the overall setting and plot of of the story felt somewhat bland. It’s another dystopian future where climate change and economic crisis ruined everything and evil corporations are doing the typical evil corporation stuff. The idea of this giant virtual world where everyone plugs in to escape reality is somewhat reminiscent of the matrix and the .hack JRPG series of Playstation games. With stuff like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift pushing for mainstream adoption of VR, an immersive MMORPG world didn’t seem all that original, especially when things like EVE Online and Second Life already exists, plus there wasn’t much in the way of plot twists either.
There a couple moments where where the main character wonders what his online friends are in real life which I felt broke the pacing of the story and of course there is “a big reveal” where one of the characters “was not what their online avatar suggested they were! Shocking revelation!” and by that I mean I nearly felt insulted by the author. To me, it is not a stretch of the imagination that people might choose to have their avatar be a different type of person then they are in real life but the author seem to try to make a big deal about. Heck there is a rather lengthy segment toward the end of the book that could very well have been ripped off from a Tumblr blog. I have nothing against inclusiveness and diversity, it just irks me when people try to hammer it in just to show how virtuous they are. Fortunately, those passages have no real pertinence to the actual plot, so feel free to skip them like I did.
Overall, it is good book and I would recommend it even if I see some flaws in it. I think it is a good stepping stone for some one who might not be familiar with what some might call “nerd culture” and it has enough in jokes and reference for some one in the in-crowd to enjoy. I see the potential it has for a good movie adaptation but I feel like it might get gutted out of a bunch of cool stuff because of licenses and trademarks, but who knows. One thing is for sure though: it won’t be as good as the book.