When the pop-culture junkie and video-game geek started Ready Player One, he was just writing the book he wanted to read. "I thought if I was lucky, a few other nerds my age would like it," he said. "It all seems ridiculous to me that I wrote a book about Pac-Man and Duran Duran and that it would be a bestseller."
As unlikely as the narrative might be for a first-time novelist, Cline's success has been explosive since the book's release, and production companies fought over the rights to make it a film. Timing definitely played a role: Ready Player One arrived on the scene at a time when being a geek was cool, hip, even chic.
"It's kind of crazy that being a geek has become cool. I wish that could have happened to me in high school," Cline says. But he didn't coordinate that timing. "Most of the screenplays that I've written are about being a geek obsessed with pop culture. It's who I am, and it's a thread that runs through everything," he notes. Cline also wrote the screenplay for 2009's Fanboys.
Ready Player One is about a teenager in the year 2044. The world has crumbled in the face of a global energy crisis and the catastrophic effects are everywhere; Wade Watts lives in a park of trailers stacked on top of each other to provide more living space. In true "Hero's Journey" archetypal fashion, Wade is an orphan living with an emotionally detached aunt, and his quest begins when he logs onto OASIS, a virtual reality video game created by wealthy eccentric James Halliday. Wade sets out to find a series of easter eggs -- hidden clues leading to a grand prize -- that relate to Halliday's favorite subject: late twentieth-century pop culture trivia.
"The first idea that I had was, 'What if Willy Wonka had been a video game designer?'" Cline says of his inspiration. "I started to think about the golden ticket contest, and what if the designer had hidden one inside his video game? What are clues [he] would leave behind? Pop culture references came next."
People often ask how much research he had to do for the sprawling video game quest. "The embarrassing answer is none," he answers. "I'm just a sponge for that stuff. The '80s were a very formative decade for me -- my whole adolescence. I don't remember any high school Spanish, but I remember all of this other crap."
With the success of his writing career, Cline was able to quit his day job to write full-time and make a dream purchase: a genuine DeLorean, tricked out with pop-culture references like a replica of a Flux Capacitor and an ECTO88 license plate.
Now fans of his novel will get the chance to compete for a DeLorean of their own: Cline has another one to give away as the grand prize in an ongoing contest. In the style of James Halliday, Cline hid what he calls a "typographical easter egg" -- a URL -- somewhere in the text of his novel. The URL takes the savvy reader to the first of three scheduled videogame challenges, each more difficult than the last.
The last challenge will be a race to the finish -- and the winner will drive home in one of the most iconic pieces of memorabilia in pop-culture history, complete with its own Flux Capacitor. If you think you have what it takes, stop by the signing, meet Cline, pick up your copy of Ready Player One -- and may the odds be ever in your favor.
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