Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.

This column’s theme: 80’s Mixtape.

With the upcoming release of both the second season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, and the next trailer for next year’s Ready Player One, 1980’s pop culture is coming up a lot these days, so this is all about fiction that has enough song references to build a mixtape out of. Let’s start with the most obvious one:

If you like:

80’s video games

80’s era Dungeons & Dragons

80’s nerd culture

Oingo Boingo or Rush

Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids

You might like:

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Shelf Care - 80s Mixtape - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


The OASIS is the Internet of the future, and when its creator dies, he gives away his controlling shares to the person most worthy of inheriting it: whoever can solve puzzles based on his childhood in the 1980’s. Teenager Wade Watts finds the first of the clues and quickly discovers that it’s information others are willing to kill for.

Sample passage

“Then, on the evening of February 11, 2045, an avatar’s name appeared at the top of the Scoreboard, for the whole world to see. After five long years, the Copper Key had finally been found, by an eighteen-year-old kid living in a trailer park on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.

That kid was me.

Dozens of books, cartoons, movies, and miniseries have attempted to tell the story of everything that happened next, but every single one of them got it wrong. So I want to set the record straight, once and for all.”


In broad strokes, the book is a clever mix of Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and The Matrix. The idea of all the puzzles Wade has to solve being based on 80’s pop culture allows for a seamless injection of references that add to the plot without feeling gimmicky. Wade’s struggles to solve the puzzles in the virtual reality of the OASIS compete with the real world threats of others being ready to kill for it. This added a level of tension I find is usually absent in novels where some of the story is set in the semi-arbitrary rules of a computer game.

That said, the really interesting thing about this book is its appeal. It’s no surprise that my wife and I loved it, having grown up in the 80’s, but our kids, who should have gotten none of the pop culture references, also loved it. While Ready Player One is certainly not a lesser known read, especially considering the forthcoming Steven Spielberg adaptation of it, it’s impossible to mention 80’s influenced books and not have it on the list.

Or if you like:

Star Trek’s transporters.

Culture Club and The Fixx

Debating teleportation and religion

Information theory

You might like

The Punch Escrow, by Tal Klein

Shelf Care - 80s Mixtape - The Punch Escrow by Tal Klein


In a world where teleportation has become ubiquitous, its safety protocols dictate that a copy of whatever is being sent is kept in case of failure – the Punch Escrow. But when the escrow goes awry and two copies exist, it raises questions that the teleportation industry would rather not

see asked or answered.

Sample passage

“So, first question, Yoel Byram. Who is your would-be assassin?”

“International Transport,” I said, gulping. “That’s who.”

Moti stared at me, his gaze all business. After a few seconds he made a note on his clipboard and asked, his voice nonchalant, “Second question. Why? Why do you think International Transport is trying to kill you?”

A cold sweat started down my neck. “Teleportation. It doesn’t work the way people think it does. I can prove it, and if I tell anyone, if people find out about me, then International Transport is ****ed. That’s why they want to kill me,” I answered.

“Interesting,” he said, his pencil seemingly checking another box.

Wait, he has a box for Huge International Corporate Conspiracy?


Set about 200 years in the future, the 80’s references here come from the chapter titles, and the main character’s interest in ancient 80’s music. There were some parts where the pacing/plotting was a little weak, but I felt that was more a result of this being a first novel rather than a lack of talent. The future that Klein has imagined is really well thought out, and, like any good science fiction story the implications of the technology are explored with some surprising results. I guarantee you, in a few years The Punch Escrow will be the book that comes up in every good teleportation debate.

Or if you like:

Ready Player One

Howard Jones and Genesis

Juveniles being juvenile

8 bit computing
You might like

The Impossible Fortress: A Novel, by Jason Rekulak

Shelf Care - 80s Mixtape - The Impossible Fortress A Novel by Jason Rekulak


Our teenage protagonist tries to look cool in front of his friends, get the Vanna White issue of Playboy, win a programming contest, and perhaps most difficult of all, hang out with a girl.

Sample passage

Programmers on a budget could store their data on cassette tapes, but the process was slow and unreliable. I gestured to the stereo speakers in the ceiling—She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah—and asked, “Was this song playing on your computer?”

“Yeah, I’m messing with the waveform generator. The SID chip has three sound channels, but to do the song properly, you need four. That’s why you didn’t hear any drums.”

I would have been less astonished if she’d answered me in Japanese. “You programmed your 64 to play ‘Invisible Touch’?”

“My ‘Sussudio’ is way better. I’m coding all of his greatest hits on the 64, one track at a time. So I can listen to them on my computer.”


This book evokes the same 80’s feel as Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, while not at all being a science fiction novel. Rekulak recreates 1987 as well as Stranger Things recreated 1983, and the whole environment feels authentic, from the computer references, to the juvenile humor and poor judgment of teenage boys. Honestly the only thing that took away from the narrative for me was a plot thread where I knew it was coming and was hoping the characters would get out of their own way in time. However, that one subplot wasn’t the entire point of the novel, and what happened after was even more interesting. I give Rekulak credit for delivering a believable ending, and bonus geek points for starting each chapter with accurate BASIC code.


So, what else should have been on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next coulda-been-Halloween-themed column: Par For The Corpse.


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