I wonder if soon there won’t be a new YA section in the bookstore, call it Teen Technopolis, an adjunct or subset of Teen Dystopia next to or (FSM willing) in place of “Teen Paranormal Romance.” I just finished Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and it’s a great read, set in a rotten post-oil future in which a form of “Second Life” is where everyone who can spends the bulk of their “first” life. The plot is a game within the game, as nerds compete to out-nerd each other to win control of the virtual world, and the bucks behind it, by fulfilling the requirements of the will of its eccentric (to say the least) creator. His obsession with the geek canon of the 70s and 80s means the book is a long paean to all kinds of things I remember from my own childhood, including things I thought nobody remembered like Ultraman and Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. (To really date myself, I remember going into Straw Hat Pizza and seeing a phone booth-looking thing by the pinball machines that turned out to be Pong.)
Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, which I haven’t read yet, would be another instance of this. I think the strains running through this new genre, in which I’d place LTP, are an acknowledgement that young adults are savvy enough to understand books with complex technical material without any forced, “gee Mr. Wizard,” Michael Crichton-esque explanatory set pieces, a fascination with a kind of “what if” that feels more plausible to many of them than Girl Meets Vampire, a sense of disillusionment with the “real world” that accepts dystopian premises, but paired with a youthful idealism that wants to see “The Man” lose in the end. (The Hunger Games trilogy goes in the dystopian category, but it’s almost anti-tech in its bows and arrows and living off the land ethos.)
SPOILERS: Ready Player One adheres to the “quest” template: the hero’s journey requires a “band of rebels” to assist him, but in the end the hero must confront the villain alone (Luke v. Darth, Frodo v. The Ring, Keanu v. The Matrix). The band must work together as equals to get to the final level, and defeat the bad guy, but in the end the hero must finish the game by himself. That “mortal combat” at the end of the quest is necessary for dramatic satisfaction, and it makes me think of how Caroline will “win” at the end of LTP. She will have allies, including Christopher’s brother, but in the end she’ll have to throw the ring into the fire herself.