Alright, here's the deal with this book: it's pandering. No, it's worse, its blatant, obvious, shameless pandering. 30-somethings who grew up during the 80's have fond memories of 80's movies, tv, music, and video games, and this book is clearly aimed to siphon money directly out of our wallets and straight into Ernest Cline's.
The writing isn't even terribly good - it's not bad or anything, but it's very matter-of-fact and occasionally flat. The beginning of the book sets up this absurd premise, in which a supergenius gazillionaire that has died has left his entire estate to whoever can find the easter egg in his massive multiplayer online simulation of reality. The world is crumbling, everyone uses this simulation as an escape, money in the game is effective real money, and our main character is devoting his life to solving the dead rich man's puzzle. Of course, he loves the 80's and so all of his riddles and puzzles relate to 80's ephemera, ranging from sitcom theme songs to Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks, from The Breakfast club to Rush albums. All of the kids in 2040 seem to eat this shit up, talking about watching Holy Grail 137 times because it's so awesome. It'd be one thing if these kids resented having to study all this crap to win the contest, but they seem to love it. I like the 80's too, but Jesus, other cool stuff has happened since. In fact, it's possible that maybe just maybe, there are some decades that are even better for geeky stuff (the 90's would like to have a word with you).
As is often the problem with books about magic or advanced technology, the author gets to make the rules up as he goes along. Character painted into a corner? Don't worry, it turns out that a particular item in an inventory is capable of fixing it in some clever way. Bad guys win new doomsday devices in the auction house, quests reward players with godlike powers, and the goalposts are constantly shifting. Ready Player One has this problem in spades, as it incorporates magic AND advanced technology, all in a simulated world that has rules (which are more or less well-laid-out) that can be bent or broken as the story needs. Do these rule changes create huge, gaping plot holes? Of course they do, one may wonder why our main character cannot receive help from people who are in the same room as his real-life body, and could easily whisper in his physical ear, just as one may wonder why Harry Potter doesn't use the time-turner more often, or to better use.
Speaking of Harry Potter, that's ultimately what this book is. Harry Potter for tech geeks, programmers, and sci-fi nerds, a technological substitute for readers who prefer spaceships and lightsabers to brooms and wands, and who missed the Harry Potter boat by being born 10 years too early to grow up with them.
Given my view of this book, you might be asking yourself why I'm giving it 3/5 stars. It's simple. I'm a 30-something who grew up during the 80's and have fond memories of 80's movies, tv, music, and video games, and this book is clearly aimed to siphon money directly out of my wallet and straight into Ernest Cline's.
The fact that this book is a transparent grab at my cash does not, somewhat unfortunately, change the fact that it's fun to read. Nostalgia porn or not, the book is fun, constantly referencing and reminding me of the things I loved. It hits just the right beats, with lots of "ohmygod I remember that!" and even a few "ohmygod I thought I was the only one" moments peppered throughout. Broad strokes of the memory brush synthesize beautifully with esoteric geek trivia, including the mentioning of flaws and bugs in certain versions of video games. Ernest did his research too, even the weird stuff is disturbingly accurate. The narrative is simple but effective, the reader cares about the main character, understands and hates the bad guy, and recognizes that the stakes are "high". We want to see our main character kill the bad guy, destroy the evil empire, save the day, and get the girl. It's simple, 80's-style storytelling, and it works. It's infuriating that pages upon pages of "hey remember this thing?" can entertain my apparently simple mind, but it entertains it nonetheless.
Is this a good book? No. For any useful definition of the word "good" it's not. Awkwardly set up, credulity-straining, and eyerollingly goofy. It's cringeworthy at times, and it's writing never rises above medicore.
But would I recommend this book to you? Well, you're reading reviews of books not on Amazon.com (40s), not on Facebook (20s), not asking your friends in real life (50s), and not talking to your librarian (60s). You're a 30-something and you know how to use the internet well enough to find a semi-popular web site, goodreads.com. Yep, you'll like the book. Fucking infuriating that you can be so effectively marketed to, isn't it? Well suck it up and deal with it, you're a sheep like the rest of us, now go pick up your copy of this month's sheep feed and get reading.