It was also – on the other hand – a decade where video games, movies and fantasy and science fiction books saw a huge surge in popularity.
In recent years many of those 1980’s franchises have seen major resurrections. This is mostly because all those geeks and nerds that were watching Transformers and playing PacMan are now adults and they are executives and engineers and producers and they control the money.
Enter Ernest Cline, a writer who is obsessed with 1980’s popular culture to the point of seeming a little bit weird.
Fans of just about anything have this problem when viewed from the outside. A comic book fan can probably explain every way in which the newest string of super hero movies differs from the canon. Football fans can quote players and game statistics to an equal degree. Some of these fanaticisms are more culturally accepted than others – though recently those cultural norms have been changing – but most people have them to some degree.
Ernest Cline invented a world in which his own personal version of fanaticism is not only culturally but also economically justified.
The entire book reads like a daydream scenario for somebody trying to answer the question “Why would you ever need to know that?”
His answer: “What if a really rich, 80’s pop culture obsessed, game designer hid three Easter Eggs in his astonishingly lifelike virtual reality world and left his entire fortune of 240 billion dollars to the first person to find them?”
The first half of the story is basically telling the reader that is exactly what happened. It consists mostly of passages of the main character, Wade Watts, doing his everyday tasks, each task succeeded by pages of exposition explaining how the world of the future is so much more screwed up – because people are dumb and don’t take care of the planet – and also cooler because they have lots of free access to 80’s pop culture.
In fact people in the future discovered that the music, games, movies, books and television shows of the 1980’s were so awesome that no other popular media has been developed from now until thirty years in the future when the book takes place.
Much of the situations and elements of the story show up only once as a fan service for the author who obviously felt a burning need for his main character to fly an X-wing, a Delorean and a Firefly class transport – only once each before never using them again. Many story elements also show up only right before they are needed as well.
About two thirds of the way through the book the author exhausts all of his fancy world ideas and starts telling a story that, while not without flaws, is actually entertaining to read. Somewhere along the way the ending turns into a kind of dystopian future thriller with virtual reality cyberpunk elements that all fit together quite nicely in structure.
The end result is a novel that starts on a low note and ends on a high note. If you can slog through the beginning you might enjoy the end.