More than anything, this book is a love letter to geek culture which hit an apex in the 80's with the availability of video games, both for primitive home computers and early internet communities coupled with the 'loser wins after all' movies of John Hughes, the emergence of addictive RPG, as in role playing games, the rise of the internet, the literature that predicted advanced tech landscapes like Gibson’s Sprawl series and last the pounding, synthesizer based music of 80's rock bands.
Most of the action in Ready Player One takes place in the artificial environment of the gigantic online world of OASIS. OASIS was created by a renegade genius programmer born in 1972 who was massively influenced by the culture of the 80's. So much so that he hid a virtual Easter egg in his virtual world. In his will, he left his entire fortune, including ownership of the OASIS software to the person who could navigate the many mine fields he also left and successfully take possession of the egg. To aid the hunter he left a massive virtual manual that supposedly contains clues to help each player find the keys that lead to the egg.
The story opens five years after the death of the creator of OASIS and although an unimaginable number of QASIS users, serious gamers all, have taken up the challenge of finding the egg, no one is close. There are three keys that must be found, in sequence and the OASIS creator has left many arcane clues, all based on 80's cultural references to music, video games, books, movies. No one can hope to find the egg without spending a massive amount of time connecting the data in the manual with the landscape of OASIS.
Our hero is a fourteen year old orphan who lives in what amounts to a packing crate and has received both his real education and his social life within the virtual world of OASIS. He is a geek of the first order, managing to rebuild laptops from scraps to maintain his online life. His name is Wade and he is on a quest to retrieve the egg. This is his adventure and in many ways this adventure reminded me of the old Sierra Online games of the early 80's, like Kings Quest. There are many other reviews that tell the whole story so I will pass on that and just say the Cline has done a great job of resurrecting the 80's and I had a great time remembering all those long ago favorites.