Ernest Cline has a thing for 1980s pop culture the way James Joyce had a thing for the Dublin of June 16, 1904. But you can't re-create a cultural landscape in fictional prose the way you can an actual city, so Cline has come up with a clever workaround: he's created an imaginary online universe programmed by an equally obsessive '80s fan, and then gives his characters (and readers) a compelling reason to explore it.
It's 2044, and teenager Wade Watts is one of millions scouring the virtual reality of the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation (OASIS, for short) for clues left by late creator James Halliday that will lead to the "Easter egg" representing his multibillion-dollar fortune. Wade has an intuitive flash that helps him discover the first puzzle, which combines a classic Dungeons & Dragons module with one of the more unusual '80s arcade games, near his high school, but he also crosses paths with Art3mis, a semi-famous egg hunter he's had a crush on for years.
Romance will have to wait, though: Wade faces a threat from a technology corporation that's pouring its resources into making sure Halliday's fortune, and control of the OASIS, will wind up in its hands. The ensuing adventure will take him to a slew of imaginary worlds, drop him into the starring role of cult movies, and even provoke a daring act of real-world industrial sabotage. Fortunately for readers, who might not be pulled along on clever '80s pop-culture references alone, Wade's online successes are matched by a gradual maturation offline.
There's a lot of the '80s crammed in here, and chances are that if you were born between, let's say, 1965 and 1975, you'll be giving the author virtual high-fives for including one or more of your more obscure favorites. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com