“No giant two-headed hermaphrodite demon unicorn avatars were allowed. Not on school grounds , anyway.”

- Ready Player One

One thing that I promised myself that I would do in 2012 was Read. More. Books.

Seeing as I spend an inordinate amount of time waste-deep (…and I mean that) in Douthatnania and McArglebargle and Halperinanity, I thought I owed it to myself to occasionally get some  joy out of reading what I actually want to read. Last year was kind of a lost year with not too much memorable or enjoyable (with the exceptions of James Wolcott’s Lucking Out, Brian Kellow’s Pauline Kael: A Life In The Dark, Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers and Tom Shone’s In The Rooms which I just finished the other day). The fact that I probably acquired about five books last year for every one that I actually got around to reading means I have quite the backlog to get through.

I was fortunate to start off the year with Ready Player One which is basically Charlie And The Chocolate Factory for gaming geeks and eighties nerds. I’ll  let  author Ernest Cline explain it all to you from over on John Scalzi’s blog:

I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of the internet and how it might evolve. I’d grown up reading science fiction novels like Neuromancer and Snow Crash, and I was still a recovering EverQuest addict. To me, it seemed inevitable that the Internet would eventually evolve into a three-dimensional space, a sprawling virtual reality that was part MMO and part social networking playground. But unlike in movies like The Matrix, I didn’t think humans would become unwitting prisoners inside this new virtual universe. Instead they would retreat into it knowingly and willingly, en masse, to escape the ever-growing troubles of the real world. Which doesn’t seem too different from the way we use the Internet now.

I was imagining what sort of person would create a virtual world on that scale, and then I remembered Warren Robinett’s first Easter egg. And that was when I got my Big Idea.

What if an eccentric video game designer, sort of a cross between Howard Hughes and Richard Garriott, created that ubiquitous virtual reality platform? And what if he decided to find a worthy successor for his company by turning his last will and testament into the greatest video game Easter Egg hunt of all time? It would be an epic treasure hunt, in a simulated universe that contained thousands of virtual planets. And those planets could be modeled after fictional worlds from other novels, films, comic books, and TV shows. It would be the ultimate storyteller’s sandbox.

The concept grabbed hold of me immediately and never really let go. I even had the perfect title, Ready Player One, taken from the message that used to appear on old coin-op video games. I began to fill notebook after notebook with ideas for scenes and characters, scribbling as fast as I could.

And when I started to ponder what sort of puzzles my eccentric video game designer would leave behind for his potential successors to try and solve, that was when I got my second Big Idea.

They tell first-time novelists to “write what you know.” Well, what I know about is being a huge geek.  I grew up consuming mass quantities of science fiction novels, Dungeons and Dragons supplements, comic books, movies, and video games. And I never really outgrew any of it. Like most geeks of my generation, I still adore all of the pop culture of my youth.

What if the puzzles left behind by my eccentric billionaire nerd tested people’s knowledge of all the pop culture stuff he loved? It felt like a very geek thing to do.  What could be a better power trip for a massive nerd than using your vast fortune to blackmail the entire world into studying and treasuring all of your favorite pop culture icons?  It would be the character’s ultimate tribute to his obsessions, and would immortalize them for all time.

If you’re interested (and how could you not be?) boingboing has a downloadable pdf file of the first three chapters. It’s pure unadulterated fun to read. Highly recommended.