It’s full-blown nostalgia season. People are back to chasing Pokémon, this time literally. A few weeks ago, Super7 released the first episode of He-Man, produced in the classic Masters of the Universe style of the 80s series, complete with the voice of the original Skeletor. Nintendo is bringing back the olde 80s NES video game console, albeit in a NES Classic Edition.
And of course, Stranger Things!
Stranger Things is a phenomenal science fiction series from Netflix that oh-so-faithfully resurrects the 80s while delivering quite an original viewing experience. The nostalgia of the 80s permeates so much across Stranger Things, it would not have been surprising if the creators and directors of the show, the Duffer Brothers, had listed ‘The Eighties’ among the principal cast. It has all the things about the 80s that we are today familiar with. The games. The movies. Television series. The music. The bad hair. And lots more. But then, the show is set in the 80s, which is half the charm of Stranger Things. If you haven’t watched it, please do so. And for those that have, and are maybe suffering from withdrawal symptoms brought on by the end of reliving the 80s, here’s a question for you.
What if there was another equally original work that pays homage to all things 80s, especially the games and all the geeky stuff apart from all the pop culture? Something that you will love if you grew up in the 80s/90s or enjoy playing video games or love the popular culture of those decades? Well, there is. And it’s a book called Ready Player One by 80s aficionado, lover of Easter eggs, time traveller, gaming enthusiast, and screenwriter, the uber-geek Ernest Cline. A book that’s set in the future but so heavily laden with the past, it has often been described as ‘nostalgia porn’. Also — because it’s filled with classic games, geek culture and tech — as ‘nerdvana’ in the form of a good novel.
“A nerdgasm… imagine Dungeons and Dragons and an 80s video arcade made hot, sweet love, and their child was raised in Azeroth.” This is how the bestselling science fiction author John Scalzi (whose Redshirts is a must-read for any self-respecting Star Trek fan) described Ready Player One, a thoroughly enjoyable mash-up of geeky obsessions and 80s pop culture lightly garnished with the 70s, 90s and a bit of the present.
Ready Player One is set in a futuristic world in the year 2044, where the world’s nothing much to write home about. Energy crisis, overpopulation, rampant social problems, economic stagnation, governments that are a joke. The only bright spot in all of this is the ‘game’ from Gregarious Simulation Systems, OASIS, a virtual reality environment or rather a whole virtual universe anyone can access or jack into – via a visor and haptic gloves – by paying a few cents one-time. OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) may have started life as an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) but over the years has become a virtual society whose currency is the most stable in the world, an education system with dedicated schooling planets and almost everything that you can think of.
Each planet is a world onto itself. Gregarious had licensed pre-existing virtual worlds from their competitors, so content that had already been created for games like Everquest and World of Warcraft was ported over to the OASIS, and copies of Norrath and Azeroth were added to the growing catalogue of OASIS planets. Other virtual worlds soon followed suit, from the Metaverse to the Matrix. The Firefly universe was anchored in a sector adjacent to the Star Wars galaxy, with a detailed re-creation of the Star Trek universe in the sector adjacent to that.
And each planet has its own rules. For instance, Ludus, the schooling planet, is a no-PvP (Player Vs Player) zone. Students weren’t allowed to use their avatar names while they were at school. This was to prevent teachers from having to say ridiculous things like “Pimp_Grease, please pay attention!” or “BigWang69, would you stand up and give us your book report?”
There’s one more thing OASIS is for thousands of its users. The only thing worth living for as it represents a lifeline to a better world for themselves. The reason? James Halliday, the co-founder of Gregarious and co-creator of OASIS has bequeathed his entire megafortune and control over OASIS to the gamer who can find the Easter Egg hidden within OASIS. The catch? The only way to get to that Easter Egg is by solving a series of puzzles and riddles all of which are based on 80s geek and pop culture, and classic games. To quote from the book, “He had an extreme fixation on the 1980s….and…seemed to expect everyone to share his obsessions.” This description, by the way, could just as well be used to describe Ernest Cline (perhaps the reason why he wrote the book?).
Halliday’s will leads to a global resurgence of interest about everything 1980s, with millions of OASIS users becoming well-versed in all things from the eighties, from fashion, movies and music to games, computers and television series. These Egg Hunters – or Gunters – know more about the 1980s than most people who lived through that decade.
Enter our protagonist Wade Watts, who looks like he was named by alliteration-loving Stan Lee. When he’s not being a high school senior, he’s a full-time Gunter as Parzival and expert on the 80s. When we first meet him, it’s already five years since Halliday’s death, and no one has solved the first clue. Wade becomes the first person to crack the clue and get to the first key, thus setting him up in a race against time, other Gunters like himself and a very nasty corporation hell-bent on finding the Easter Egg and gaining control of OASIS, and who will stop at nothing to do so. So begins a fun, fast-paced yet dangerous adventure (game?) in which we breathlessly follow Parzival and his group of friends, including fellow gunter and rival Art3mis (other spellings for her avatar, like Wade’s had already been taken), best friend Aech and a cast of other motley characters, including– you guessed it – The Eighties.
It would be wrong to say that all Cline does in Ready Player One is name-drop 80s pop culture references (though he does do that a lot throughout the book!). His depiction of the world in 2044 is nicely fleshed out to a large extent. Details have been well thought out – from the stacked-up trailers that are now homes in urban areas, to issues like free speech, privacy and net neutrality, gun control, an online world without prejudice – to a very believable degree.
Surely, a book as great as this couldn’t have escaped the attention of Hollywood? It has not. The rights to Ready Player One were picked up even before the book was published, and it’s being directed by none other than the man who gave some science fiction classics of his own, Steven Spielberg (whose work is referenced a lot in the book) and due to come out early 2018. But if you’re thinking you’d rather wait for the movie, here’s a note of caution. Spielberg has indicated that many of the 80s references will be dropped in the movie. And also, it’s a long two-year wait.
So for those of you readers who’d rather not wait we’ll throw in an added incentive to read the book – a free copy of your own.
And this time, we’re giving away not one, but three copies of Ready Player One to the three people who give the best sci-fi twist to something Indian from the 80s/90s. That’s it. Take any movie, song or television serial from India from these decades, remix it a bit with a sprinkling of sci-fi, and a copy of Ready Player One could be yours. Leave your answers in the comments section below, or tweet to us with the hashtag #NWWonFD or you could just leave us a comment on the FactorDaily Facebook page on or before 31st August 2016.
That’s it on New Worlds Weekly for this week. Until next Friday, and beyond, Live Long and Prosper!
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Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.