It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.
Wade Watts is a teen, and his world is definitely dystopic. He lives in a trailer park where the single-wides are crammed and stacked on top of each other like cord wood. If you fall behind on your payments, you’ll end up in the “poor house” working tech support for the rest of your life. (And some people chose that as a better option.)
So, this should be young adult dystopian fiction, right? Not exactly. It did win the ALA Alex Award for adult fiction that appeals to young adults. But RPO isn’t YA.
And it isn’t because of “adult themes” or something for “mature audiences.” RPO is pretty PG-13.
Nope. RPO is adult fiction because it’s clearly written for those of us who remember the 1980’s. (And those of us who were and still are nerds.)
The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, was a kid in the 1980’s, and throughout his highly successive life, he was obsessed with the era. Imagine Halliday as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Howard Hughes (for the recluse factor) all rolled into one. Wade and his fellow gunters (easter egg hunters) steep themselves in 80’s trivia—from gaming to tv to movies—in order to solve the puzzle—and win control of the Oasis, by the way. Some of stuff is made-up, but most of it is real. Dungeons and dragons. Early computers. War Games. John Hughes flicks. The book wallows (in a good way) in nostalgia, but the conceit works. Halliday and Wade both longed for the time that the 80’s represented—in the book at least. The 1980’s was the time where it all started and before it all went horribly wrong.
So, not only is RPO an 80’s “nerdgasm,” as John Scalzi called it, but the book is also about nostalgia for the past in general—and moving on from it. As the reader, we old folks can identify with Wade because, in some ways, he represents the teens we were (and maybe still are on the inside). But, today’s teens—who weren’t born until the *gasp* mid-to-late 90’s—can still appreciate the fantastic characters, settings, and plot. RPO is, bottom-line, a blast to read.
btw, the audiobook is fabulous--and read by Will Wheaton.
What did you guys think of RPO? Can you think of any other recent books that, on the surface, seem like YA, but clearly aren't? Why?