...because even though my dad started out well by buying us Pong when it first came out (but Pong is not in this book and since everything else that ever happened near a screen in the 80s is, I just have to wonder why the fuck not), my parents later flatout refused to buy us an Atari, even though my siblings and I did some epic whining about that. We had a Commodore 64, but maybe 3 games for that, most of which you had to reload from cassette tape (a 20 minute process at least), because we did not have a floppy drive for those disks that actually were quite floppy back then, every time you wanted to play and they usually took several tries to get through the loading process. An hour into the process you still hadn't started playing yet. So, I missed out on a bunch of those first video games, and it hampered my enjoyment of this book. I hope my mom and dad read this and feel all the guilt. I don't care if they're over 70 now: All. The. Guilt.
The first 20% of this book is boring as shit. Infodump after infodump until you start wondering who let the dude with the boner for the 80s anywhere near a word processor in the first place. If you make it through that you unlock the story achievement and the process of reading this becomes considerably less arduous. It still has its moments, though where you have to plow through several pages of technobabble about virtual reality rigs (complete with model numbers) that are fictional. Or pages of basic intstructions on how a MMORPG works. And always, always more 80s trivia. I have to wonder what this book is doing in the YA section of my library. Are there any teens out there who are not gagging at the overload of 80s minutiae? Who do not want the geezers to stfu already?
And if it is meant for the 40 something geeks, where is the depth in the story line, the characterization, the world building and surely, we do not need any MMORPG instructions? I guess I am not geeky enough, but if I had any nostalgia left about my teen years in the 80s, Cline incinerated it. Sure, I loved War Games and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but the prospect of watching the former over 3 dozen times and the latter 157 times makes me vaguely nauseous. And about that: If I start adding up all the hours Wade must have spent mastering all these vintage games and watching and rewatching all these shows and movies and memorizing Rush lyrics (yech, Rush) the guy must be in his mid thirties at least. Instead, he is barely 18, because obviously this story, like every fucking geek story, needs a teenage white male straight protagonist. Who wins Princess Peach at the end.
Did I mention that the romance part of the story sucked? Art3mis started out as a vaguely interesting character, but soon turned into to the token woman-as-a-motivational-tool-for-the-male-mc character. Going from kickass to oh-so-fragile about her minor disfiguration. Tell her that she is beautiful regardless, and she melts. Blargh. The other female character pretty much disappears after she's been revealed as female (which you can see coming a mile away). Cline needs to hire Felicia Day to write his females, or something.
Anyway, despite all this I was pretty invested in the story and it was mostly entertaining, so it wasn't a total wash. But I could not shake the feeling that this had been done before and done better. It felt like a mashup of a couple of Stephenson books and Williams' Otherland books all the way through, but dumbed down. I am glad it wasn't as long as those doorstops, but ultimately what I am going to remember about this book is less of the epic battles and more of the lingering irritation.