READY PLAYER ONE is a combination of Willy Wonka and Snow Crash. It's kind of funny that this description appeared in a review of the Washington Post, except this was "Willy Wonka and The Matrix." I don't blame the Post for getting this wrong because there's not that many well known cyberpunk works in the mainstream media.
However, the similarity to Willy Wonka is strong: an eccentric billionaire leaves his vast fortune to whatever child can solve his mysterious test of character. The big difference is that it is a cyberpunk dystopia and full of a massive number of 80s references anyone under the age of thirty-five will be hard pressed to get.
Plus, how many young adults have seen Revenge of the Nerds (which didn't age well due to the rampant horrifying misogyny). On the other hand, the obscurity of some references (Buckaroo Banzai!) is part of the charm. It's a book about finding an Easter Egg in a video game but which is full of countless Easter Eggs.
The premise is Wade Watts is a teenage hacker who lives in the dystopian cyberpunk future of the 2050s. Global warming and an expenditure of all the world's oil means the planet is a wasteland but humanity continues to thrive thanks to the existence of the OASIS. Halliday, the Willy Wonka figure above, made his clues in the form of 80s pop culture so Wade has devoted most of his young life to memorizing as much of it as possible so he can be the one to win the contest.
The biggest flaw, if you can call it a flaw is the fact this is obviously made for adults who had their childhood in the 80s yet written like a YA novel. It's a little weird, also, because it references everything in the 80s rather than any certain topics. You'd think there'd be one thing he didn't like from the time period (correction, there is, a feel good song he describes at the end).
The second biggest flaw is the story is pretty paint by the numbers. The main characters search the OASIS (a virtual reality internet) extensively for clues, run into the bad guys a few turns, there's a relationship with a girl before a breakup then reunion, and everything works out in the end. There's perhaps one or two twists but I think the story feels a bit rote at times.
I actually think part of the issue I have with this book is the fact I like just about every character more than Wade himself. Art3mis and Aech are both characters with more interesting stories than Wade himself as well as more genuinely heroic. I also was more intrigued by the villain and wanted to know what his deal was. There were times the book also skipped over interesting story beats while giving us only exposition in return.
Despite this, I found the book to be fun. The pop culture references are usually awesome and if I could have a Delorean time-machine, a Firefly-class vessel, my own personal asteroid, and an unlimited free internet with access to a cyberpunk universe as well as all the 80s nostalgia I could get--I might never want to leave too.