Wade Watts is a teenager living in a Oklahoma in the mid 21st century, a time when the global economies have collapsed and the world is experiencing famines and repressive governance. Like most people he spends a lot of time in the virtual online world called OASIS. OASIS is an free to access immersive experience and people work and play in it, Wade even attends high school there.
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OASIS was created by genuis billionaire James Halliday, and upon his death he declared that there where three hidden keys within OASIS. Each key lets the winner through a hidden gate, and going through the final gate grants the winner Halliday's entire fortune and a majority stake in his company.
The hunt for the keys is a massive enterprise with thousands participating, but after five years have passed with no keys found interest wanes except for the more hardcore seekers who go by the nickname "gunters".
Wade is one of those gunters, using the online name of Parzeval. He studies up on eighties trivia and pop culture (a major component of Halliday's world) and spends endless hours searching for the keys and reading every piece of information available about Halliday, including his autobiography.
Wade finds the first key and its corresponding gate and his online persona becomes famous overnight. He gets endorsement deals and interviews, and even the attention of a major corporation which is also looking for the keys. The CEO of the company, a man named Sorrento, approaches Parzeval and offers him millions for the key. Wade refuses and Sorrento resorts to death threats instead. Wade believes he is safely anonymous, but when a bomb blows up his house he realizes that his identity is known and he goes on the run in the inhospitable real world.
With his endorsement money he sets himself up on a safehouse. He buys top of the line computer equipment and for six months he dedicates himself solely to finding the second key. He runs into fellow gunters online including his best friend Aech, although friendship has become a bit strained due to their hunt rivalry. He also flirts with a rival one called Art3mis and the two become romantically involved. But they have a falling out, and then she finds the second key before Wade does.
As each gate and key is discovered the stakes increase, with Sorrento devoting the entire resources of his massive company to the quest. If he can control OASIS, his company can charge for access. Wade is determined to prevent this but when Sorrento finds the location of the third gate he surrounds the location with defenses, so even with the key the other gunters don't stand a chance.
Wade teams up with Aech and Art3mis and they devise a plan to defeat Sorrento and get through the final gate.
Best part of story, including ending:
The puzzles that Wade has to solve are very fun and clever.
Best scene in story:
The big boss battle for the third gate is exciting and the stakes feel appropriately high.
Opinion about the main character:
Wade is a bit of a kid, and sometimes a bit unrealistically clever