READY PLAYER ONE is an 80s cyberpunk re-skin Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This is interesting because aside from using "World of Imagination" in the movie trailer and the Washington Post quote above, I don't recall seeing many reviews of the book bringing up the fact it's the same story: an eccentric billionaire with a beloved franchise leaves said franchise as well as his wealth to the person who can pass his peculiar tests. Except, in this case, it's not a chocolate factory but a virtual reality equipped version of the internet he owned lock, stock, and barrel.
In-universe the character of James Halliday is compared to Bill Gates but he's much closer to Steve Jobs in terms of personality, history, and eccentricities. I don't think this was deliberate on the part of Ernest Cline but the comparison was surprisingly apt. Really, I was honestly surprised Jobs didn't leave his fortune to the first person who stayed the night in a haunted mansion or found a Golden Ticket equivalent in his last batch of cellphones.
The premise of the book is Wade Watts is an overweight unlikable teenager who is utterly obsessed with 80s pop culture as well as the OASIS network. It's a surprisingly believable cyberpunk future where global warming, overpopulation, government corruption, and an oil crisis have resulted in Earth becoming a failed state dystopia. The OASIS is their opiate for the masses with unlimited information and worlds open for mankind to explore in place of living their awful lives in the real world.
Much has been made of the fact Ready Player One is loaded down with pop culture references and I don't mean like the Dresden Files or, hell, even my Supervillainy Saga books. No, I mean, that every single page has about fifteen references to everything from Sixteen Candles to Revenge of the Nerds to Family Ties and John Hughes. When *I* comment about something having too many pop culture quips and references, you know you've gone overboard.
This is justified in the somewhat ham-fisted way of making it so the entirety of Earth has become obsessed with 80s nostalgia due to the fact Halliday was obsessed with his teenage years. His offer of 200 billion dollars to whoever can solve his 80s pop culture questions results in an essential reboot of human culture so nothing before or after might as well exist. I think the only reference to anything older was the latter Star Trek seasons that were in the 90s.
In my mind there's a difference between referencing and using pop culture in a narrative but Ready Player One is hard to deride even if it does a lot of the former. At one point the Demilich from the Tomb of Horrors engages in a live battle of the arcade game Joust with the protagonist. If you can't smile after that statement then you were probably born later than I was. Halliday is an enormous raging egotist with terrible taste in at least half the things he loved but the dude had style, I admit.
Is the book flawed? Yes, I'm going to say it is. At least in the context of being consistently on the side of Wade in the narrative. At one point at the start of the book he takes a moment to insult the notion of religion and God then pretty much spends the rest of the book being a selfish jackass. Thankfully, the author is at least aware the protagonist is a jerk given the much more likable Art3mis points out taking 200 billion dollars to make himself a mansion full of toys is a pretty awful use of the money.
There's also the fact the OASIS is treated as something unhealthy that distracts humanity from the "real world" and it's problems. Unfortunately, OASIS is actually depicted as something fundamentally good from all accounts. It provides unlimited free knowledge and social interaction for the whole of humanity. It's a public library available to all of the planet with open source technology, thoughts, and communications that I can only think of a good thing. So what if people use it to make holographic worlds and porn? In real-life, the OASIS would probably be a great contributor to world peace as well as mental as well as spiritual development.
In conclusion, Ready Player One is...fun. As cyberpunk novels go, it's actually quite good and has some things to say about the world as well as society. I don't agree with its conclusions as any anti-tech ideas in cyberpunk automatically turn me against it but that's the author's opinion. While Wade isn't my favorite character, I liked the supporting cast as well as loved to hate the villains. If you're willing to accept the idea of Young Adult cyberpunk as a concept then I think this might be your book. I will say if you were born in 1990 or past this point, i.e. ten years after me and I'm at the tail end of being able to appreciate this, then you might as well be reading an ancient Greek text.