This was a fun book based on an interesting (if not entirely coherent) premise: in a bleak future a tech billionaire makes his fortune available upon his death to anyone who can figure out the clues to a complex set of puzzles he has created. Because the puzzles are based on the 1980s pop culture of his youth, millions of people obsessed with solving the mystery and winning his fortune become experts in the arcana of video games, television shows, and movies from that era. Among them is Wade Watts, an impoverished teenager in Oklahoma City who becomes the first to solve the first puzzle, sparking a rush that leads to an epic clash with a corporation that will stop at nothing to win the prize and the power that will come with it.
Ernest Cline's book is a great story -- one that apparently is destined to come someday soon to a theater near you -- and he manages to maintain suspense in what is a somewhat predictable but nonetheless entertaining narrative. Yet as fun as the book is (particularly the idea that the prospect of winning the vast wealth sparks a cultural revival of a largely unlamented decade), his dystopian setting strains credulity. It;s ironic in that respect as, Cline's online universe comes across as more fully realized than the real world the characters long to escape. If civilization is in decline because of energy shortages, for example, then where did the power come from to build the vast online works in which millions of people spent their days? And if society is in collapse, the how does a corporation earn enough revenue to become so dominant? It's things like this which detracted from what is otherwise a creative book that most readers will enjoy.