Wow. This was a fun, fantastic, funny, nostalgic read that kept me up at night to get to the ending.
I was always a fan of Dream Park by Larry Niven, which was about a park that brought Dungeons & Dragons style game play to reality through actors and special effects. Mr. Cline has updated the story for the 21st Century with virtual reality creating a MMORPG used for everything from school (which is pretty brilliant) to user-controlled worlds.
The hook here is that the story revolves around a designer obsessed with 80's culture. So we have references to TV shows, movies, music, games, and video arcades (although in my part of the country, classic coin-op video arcades were fading already by the end of the 70's.)
Anybody over 40 will enjoy all the old references, which become keys to unraveling the plot line. Those of us a little older will enjoy the nostalgic references even further back to Pong and some of the classic text-based adventure games.
The basic story of loner boy who makes friends and takes on the world is nothing new, but these virtual friends, in this virtual world provide for a fresh and exciting story.