I'm not a fan of cyberpunk.
This is an uncomfortable admission because I'm a geek girl and a nerd. I'm a gamer and my nerd cred goes back to the days of adolescence when I taught myself to program in BASIC on a Tandy computer. The kind of contraption that had a TV screen for a monitor and a tape drive for storage--except we were too poor to buy a tape drive, so any code I wrote disappeared into oblivion whenever I shut the machine off.
But I found Neuromancer unreadable and DNFed Snow Crash after a couple hundred pages. It's possible that the tone of most cyberpunk with its "Gee-whiz, isn't all this technology Awesome? Here's a detailed description of my cool equipment!" is too contrived for me. Like a nerd, it desperately wants to be liked.
That said, Ready Player One is a fun romp through cyberspace. Kind of like Snow Crash, but without the Librarian and the tedious, info-dumpy, treatises into Sumerian history. Some of the aspects of Snow Crash that I enjoyed--the believably fucked-up version of the U.S. and the commentary on the inherent escapist elements of the internet/virtual reality--are present in Ready Player One, but the story is grounded in a likeable, introverted protagonist who nevertheless manages to cultivate strong friendships over the course of the story. The one thing I remember about Snow Crash is that the protagonist left me cold; I didn't give a rat's ass what happened to him.
Wade, aka Parzival, is a dork, but he's lovable. He's a kid from the wrong side of the trailer park stacks. Yeah, "stacks." In this future world, rednecks, in search of employment in the big city, move their mobile homes to shanty towns on the edge of large cosmopolitan areas. Because space is limited, their homes are literally stacked, one atop the other, supported by huge steel beams.
Wade, whose parents are both dead, splits his time between living in an abandoned van and his aunt's laundry room in a trailer in the stacks. Most of his time is spent in the van, where he can cruise the online world of OASIS without being hassled by his aunt (who steals his gear). OASIS, available to everyone, rich and poor, has become a world all its own, with an economy and government that functions better than that of any in the real world.
When the founder and creator of OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he leaves a sizable fortune to anyone who can find an Easter egg hidden in OASIS. The hunt is on for the treasure, and Wade is one of thousands of "gunters" intent on finding the three keys and gates necessary to secure the egg.
Of course, in this future world, corporations rule the real world, and one, IOI, wants to rule OASIS as well. If IOI, though its huge army of Sixers, finds the egg first, OASIS will no longer be a quasi-egalitarian place, and instead become a pay-for-play world only available to the elite and privileged.
So...evil corporation vs. every man/woman. I'm with that. And surprisingly, the endless references to 80s pop culture didn't wear too thin. Halliday, who grew up in the 80s, was obsessed with the era, and solving his various clues require that gunters have an encyclopedic knowledge of the time period.
Usually, anything or anyone that waxes poetic about the 80s makes my eyes twitch. I'm not particularly nostalgic, in part, because I'm a fan of living in the now. Because 80s pop culture is something I was there to experience, references to the time of big hair, birth of MTV, etc. make me feel old. And I don't like feeling old.
But I confess, it was fun reading along and going, "Oh, wow, I forgot all about that!" as Wade dug through some pretty obscure 80s references. OTOH, references to Serenity/Firefly and more recent geekyness gave me much warmer fuzzies.
With the exception of a few derailments into "Look at all my cool tech" info-dumps, Ready Player One moves at a brisk pace. The story's primary weakness is that Wade is sort of a Mary Sue.
Point of fact, because I was engaged with the story, I didn't realize the extent of Wade's super-duper-ness until writing this review. Wade has a serious case of "the boy who can do no wrong." Aside from spending too much time mooning over the girl of his dreams, Wade always makes the right decision; every plan he concocts works out well; he's always in the right place at the right time; clues fall in his lap. People in his periphery get hurt, killed (blown-up), but I don't think Wade ever suffers so much as a paper cut.
Nevertheless, Ready Player One is entertaining; wish fulfillment fantasy for anyone who's ever felt more at home online than in the real world.