I think I was bought this book as a present a while back. It’s certainly not the type I’d pick off the shelf. Not because of the cover or the blurb or anything, but because it’s popular. I have one of those odd personalities where if someone says to try something popular, I scream “I’m not one of you!” and run away with my fingers in my ears singing along to some obscure band that no one else has ever heard of. And, yes, sometimes I do end up cutting off my own nose because screw you, Face! But anyway, someone bought this one for me and I’m always willing to at least try the books others give me… even if it is about 2 years after the fact. And I’m glad I did finally get around to reading it.

RPO is set in the not-too-distant-future where the world is a crappy place and the poorest of folk live in the most ridiculous form possible, but thankfully there’s the OASIS. The OASIS is where half, if not more, of the story takes place; it’s a massive, immersive computer simulation very reminiscent of an MMORPG computer game. It’s often referred to as a game, but it’s not a game, in fact the book itself often can’t decide whether it’s a game or not. It’s not. It’s a simulation with games embedded in it. And now that hair is well and truly split, I shall move on.

The creator, curator, and majority share holder of the OASIS and the company that owns it dies. This enigmatic man leaves behind a new sort of treasure hunt game, spread out over the whole OASIS, to find a worthy successor for his crown (robes). Of course in reality it’s not so much a worthy successor as a geek who’s in to all the same things he was (mostly stuff from the 1980s and plenty of computer games). The interesting bit here is that it creates a whole new subculture of folk who study the decade and everything this creator liked. Trends always come back into fashion eventually, but by creating the biggest and most elaborate treasure hunt in history, this character artificially brings the 1980s back into focus. That’s something I can get behind… apart from the hair and the shoulder pads. Definitely the films though. I do so miss 1980s Hollywood, back when they knew how to make a film. Yes, I’m reminiscing!

So the story focuses on Wade Owen Watts (WOW), also known as Parzival, as he struggles against poverty, the perils of online friendships, an oppressive corporate machine, and the need to constantly spew out pop culture references.

First things first: The story is very clever. It starts with Wade using the OASIS to escape his crappy life and using the treasure hunt as a way of justifying the amount of time he spends away from the real world. It progresses at a rapid pace and so does Wade, quickly moving on from squalor to riches and struggling against corporate douchebaggery, making and breaking friendships along the way. Then it turns into a bit of heist story for a few chapters where we discover the Wade is apparently some sort of man with the plan genius, before erupting into an old Japanese Godzilla film. If you think I’m joking about any of that, just read it…

The characters are oddly endearing. I actually found Wade himself to be the least likeable when compared to his supporting cast. Between the best friend Aech (who acts about 5 years younger than he is), the pair of samurai wannabe brothers; Shoto and Daito, and the love interest Art3mis (who appears to be modeled after every WoW players’ wet dream), the cast quickly get under your skin and make you want to keep reading to find out how it will all play out and if all of them will survive. I should stop here and point out that I mean survive in 2 different ways as people can both die in the real world and in the OASIS. Each of the supporting cast also has their own big twist and that’s all part of the story as well as it deals heavily with the idea that the online world is an escape from the real one, and there anyone can be anything.

The twists come thick and fast and, though many of them are predictable, the pace of the book only slows down briefly towards the middle when Wade becomes rich and starts wallowing in self pity. It’s all part of the lesson he needs to learn to become the man he needs to be to don the creator’s robes.

In the end this story boils down to one boy/man’s quest to become virtual God only to realise that… REDACTED DUE TO SPOILERS…

I did have a couple of fairly major issues with the book. First was the pop culture references. Yes, they served a purpose and yes it was part of the foundation the book was built upon and the more subtle ones I had no problem with. Unfortunately, half of the references were more like name dropping TV shows or films from the 80s. It kinda felt like the author was winking at the audience every time he popped one in, telling all of us who look back fondly on that decade that we’re relevant once again. It had the effect of dragging me, quite roughly, out of the narrative and reminding me that I’m reading a book about a man’s obsession with the past.

The other issue for me was Wade’s occasional unbelievability. At the beginning he spews out lists of things he’s watched/read/listened to and tells us how many times he’s watched/read/listened to them… along with going to school everyday… and sleeping… and I assume at least a few other things. I just can’t see his has the time to do it. It’s not a matter of will, it’s shear matter of time. Then there’s the bit towards the end where he suddenly becomes a genius hacker without ever having shown any aptitude for it before. One moment he’s a gamer and treasure hunter, then next he’s able to hack through sophisticated firewalls and what not. I understand that he …REDACTED DUE TO SPOILERS… but that does not excuse the fact that he suddenly has new knowledge and abilities that we never saw (or even heard about) him earning.

At the end of the day I enjoyed the hell out of this book. It was fun, fast, interesting, and played on my love of the 80s and of MMORPGs. I give it a good 4.5 stars, but as always I round up.