It’s not often that a work of science fiction is able to appeal to geeks and non-geeks alike, somehow managing to engage fans of the genre and people who are just looking for a good read. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One does that, making for one reason it’s poised to be the hottest sci-fi book of 2011.Even well before its release date the book has managed to generate a lot of buzz–having already been optioned for a movie by Warner Bros. certainly didn’t hurt, but thats not enough to ensure success. Ready Player One already has great reviews, critical acclaim, and a growing fan base.The simplest way to describe RPO is as a mash-up of a lot of things sci-fi readers are already familiar with. That’s not at all rare for a work with mainstream appeal, but it’s a part of this book from beginning to end. Everything takes place in the America of 2044 where life is pretty bad for the main character, Wade Watts, but he spends most of his time online in a MMO virtual reality known as OASIS. The creator of this online universe has decided that ownership will go to the first person to complete an epic in-world quest. As you’ve probably guessed, our protagonist is going to do his damnedest to win that prize and save himself from a rather bleak existence.The building blocks of the story are reminiscent of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The book’s online world, the OASIS, very much like a more approachable version of Snow Crash’s Metaverse, with clear influence from World of Warcraft. The game’s influence can be seen in the players’ roles in the OASIS–it’s a game world with points and levels and quests, not just an online universe along the lines of Second Life.The major hook with Ready Player One, the thing that will make it or break it for many readers, is that the book (and seemingly its author) is obsessed with the 1980s. In the book this is justified through the creator’s contest: he was an 80s fanatic and in order to solve his quest, so must be players. The Easter Egg hunters (known as “gunters”) study 80s trivia as a way of life so the book features nonstop references to everything from WarGames to The Goonies to Rush. Here is a quick litmus test for you: If you don’t know who Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (Chief Metallurgist to King Charles V) is then this might get a bit tiresome.While the 1980s references could come off as a crutch, it doesn’t become a problem because there is a story behind it. Wade and the other characters are easy to relate to and their motivations are clear. What’s more is that the book is extremely easy to read and it moves along at a very fast pace–once the plot is setup it’s a race to collect the three keys and battle the evil IOI (basically a futuristic ISP) for control of the OASIS. With the real world crumbling around the gunters they can escape to OASIS where they are powerful, famous, and the world’s last hope.Ultimately I found RPO to be a very enjoyable read. It’s light, perfect for the beach, and an easy page-turner. The concepts are easy to understand and at no point does it get weighed down by sci-fi concepts, hard-to-parse futurespeak, or any of the other things that keep people away from science fiction. There is an endless stream of reference to 80s movie, old school videogames, and other geek standards (like Lord of the Rings) but readers of Geek.com shouldn’t find any of these to be overwhelming.I wouldn’t consider myself much of an 80s connoisseur but I got through it with no problem. It gets to the point where it seems like the author is talking about the 80s simply because that’s his favorite subject (he notes in the included Q&A that his best day ever includes watching Ultraman, that his favorite band is Rush and his favorite game is 1987’s Black Tiger) but I tried not to let this get to me. There is a story behind it all and many of the key references are so obscure that there is no chance you’ll figure them out beforehand so your own geekiness will not become a problem.All the fun aside, I did have a problem with the book. The characters–the gunters–are in 2054 basically living in an amazing simulation world. It has thousands of full-sized planets, mind-blowing experiences, and millions of people to interact with, yet they while away their time playing 80s game and watching Knight Rider. An obsession with the quest makes sense, but the endless fascination from people who were too young to have experienced the 1980s in anything aside from virtual textbooks strikes me as questionable. They could be creating planets and racing rocket ships, bit instead they are perfecting their Pac-man technique? It stikes me as nostalgia on the part of the author and it’s a stumbling block with the work.Ready Player One is a great read for all the geeks out there and something you can hand off, unashamedly, to your friends and family when you are finished reading.RPO will be released on August 16th through Amazon.com, B&N, and others.