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Ready player one?

As a geek in the eighties (well, let’s face it – every decade really), I lapped up movies, comics and games like no tomorrow. I didn’t get out much, as you can probably tell – being able to recite most of the lines from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  or do a (bad) Yoda impression was never going to be a winner at parties.

Therefore it came as quite a surprise to one of the Waterstones staff at a signing I did recently, that I hadn’t read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The title was familiar and I was sure I had ‘heard something’ about it, but it was all a bit vague. Unperturbed by my ignorance, the staff member went on to tell me the basic premise… and my eyes slowly widened to the size of dinner plates. There may even have been some unsightly tongue lolling, Pavlov’s dog style.

I bought the book from the store that day (so that was my royalties gone in one fell swoop!) and started reading at the train station. By the time I was home I was half-way through and that night I kept reading into the early hours until it was finished. It’s rare for me to read a book so quickly, but with RP1 I felt like I had discovered some kind of magical portal back to the 80’s (like Hot Tub Time Machine, but without the…er… hot tub).

At last, I had discovered an author that understood the ‘World of Geek’. You could almost wring out the pages and watch the images spill out – coin-op arcades, high score tables, New Romanticism, Dungeons & Dragons, bad hair, fluorescent socks, doing the “robot dance” at discos… (Okay, perhaps the last few were just me…)

What I loved about the book is that it is essentially an ‘old school’ quest – designed for uber-geeks like myself. The premise is that, in the near future, most people are hooked on a virtual environment known as OASIS (sorry Blizzard, you missed out) – an immersive world that provides everything, from schooling and commerce, to gaming and tourism. The creator of this vast Tron-like wonderland, Richard Halliday, sets a challenge in his last will and testament – somewhere in this virtual world, he has hidden an Easter Egg (not the chocolate variety sadly, we’re hip and virtual now), which will give anyone who finds it the keys to his  company and a gazillion-dollar fortune.

Much to the ire of the many corporate hacks who are out for their own selfish ends, Halliday is a gamer and a geek, so the clues to reaching his Easter Egg are breadcrumbs of nostalgia, forcing would-be adventurers to scour 80s game and movie lore to solve the clues and win his fortune. And so we follow one gamer’s attempt to solve the Halliday puzzles and ‘beat the game’, while trying to stay one step ahead of his fellow competitors. It’s an exciting geek-fuelled page-turner and one I highly recommend. As Ferris would say, ‘It is so choice.’

Sorry, that was a bit of a long intro… and for someone else’s book no less (I can picture my publicist doing a wondrous impression of Linda Blair from The Exorcist at this moment … ) But there is a point to this – bear with, bear with. My editor contacted me last week to see if I was interested in running a competition to coincide with the launch of DestinyQuest: The Heart of Fire and whether I could I come up with something suitably original. After staring boss-eyed at the screen and doing a great Gurning impression, I suddenly had a bolt of inspiration. (I swear, for a moment, a light bulb pinged above my head – then my giddy excitement was quashed when I sadly discovered it was the microwave.)

You see, DestinyQuest is full of Easter Eggs. There are hidden (and not so hidden) references to music, arcade games, movies, television, role-playing games, pop culture, fairy tales… Nothing on the same level or genius as ‘Richard Halliday’ I hasten to add, but the little touches are there for people to find.

So, that’s when I came up with the challenge (bear with, bear with…). While I wanted to do a sprawling adventure quest in the vein of Ready Player One, I did have to remind myself that I don’t have the keys to a super-sized world corporation to give away – so perhaps, scaling it down to a single challenge made a lot more sense. And the prize? Ooh, I’m so glad you should ask.

Gollancz are kindly giving away 10 copies of The Heart of Fire, the second book in the DestinyQuest series. Each winner will also receive a full set of six limited-edition trading cards, each featuring a rare item of treasure that does not appear in the book (can I hear a collective ‘wooah!’). And to win these rarest of goodies…? You must answer the following question:

In The Legion of Shadow (Book One of the DestinyQuest series), there is a quest entitled ‘Waking the Dead’ (it is also available as a free download from the official website). In that quest, one of the characters utters the words to a spell – to bring a metal automaton to life. The letters of that spell, when unscrambled, will spell out an 80s television show.

Name that show – email your answers to competitions@orionbooks.co.uk with the subject line: Destiny Quest and the first 10 correct entries will win a copy of the book and a full set of treasure cards. Cool huh?

Hang on… you’re still here?

That high score table isn’t going to write itself – hit the start button and get playing! 😉

Happy questing.

MJW