Put on your pop culture trivia hats, compadres, because this book is written entirely in references.
In the no-to-distant-future, things have — not surprisingly — gone to shit. The environment is all wonky, we're pretty much out of fossil fuels, and people are living in trailers stacked on top of each other like sad Jenga. The one escape people have from their dreary, poverty-stricken existence is the virtual reality video game OASIS, which is pretty much World of Warcraft except also all other video games. It's all other video games inside World of Warcraft. Except World of Warcraft is also inside the video game. It's basically a Russian doll of video games. Except more. It's an MMO (massively multiplayer online) with all the classic questing, gear, and levelling components, but it's also a chatroom, marketplace, school. It spans hundreds of planets. People can live their whole lives playing, working, and living in the OASIS.
And people do.
The creator of this epic game was an eccentric genius named Halliday. Upon his death, leaving no heirs, he announced a contest. If a player is able to solve some impossible puzzles and complete some impossible quests and find his unfindable Easter Egg, they will be rewarded with Halliday's entire fortune, as well as a controlling stake in his game development company. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear, people are a bit excited about this.
It's in the quest to find Halliday's Egg that all the references pop out. Mainly '80s focused, I missed a lot of these. But that just resulted in me barking "Hah!" with glee whenever I did get the reference.
It's completely enjoyable without recognizing every quote, and the plot never hinges on your having seen some Matthew Broderick movie (apparently he did, like, way more things than Ferris). It was, in fact, the most entertaining thing I've read in 2012.
Though Cline (or maybe his protagonist, Wade aka Parzival) has a problem that I completely sympathize with. He gets stuck on phrases and uses them again and again. One thing I came away from this novel being really really clear about was that this place called Dodge is terrible and people should get the hell out of it. My only other qualm was that the obligatory love story felt like an obligatory love story. I think the novel could have been whole and happy without it, so it came off a bit Michael sure-there's-Transformers-and-explosions-but-also-kissy-times-so-now-ERRVERYBODY-LIKES-THIS-MOVIE Bay.
That being said, there are rereads of Ready Player One in my future. When I finished it, I was so bummed that I couldn't actually play OASIS that I levelled my undead mage in WoW from 12 to 63 in, like, a weekend. All I can say is I hope I'm alive for when they release a proper virtual reality game. Until then, rereads.
I will leave you, internets, with perhaps the best reason ever to read a book. If you read it, and if you find a certain easter egg within its text, you can win ...
That's right kids. A mother-effing DeLorean. (Time travel capabilities not included.) Cline celebrated the release of Ready Player One's paperback edition with the announcement of his very own easter egg hunt. This shit just got serious.