Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
In Ready Player One, it's 2044, and the road to riches is paved with '80s trivia - books, movies, music, and of course, arcade games. It's also peppered with modern geekery like Firefly and World of Warcraft, and namechecks classic and modern authors like Heinlein and Scalzi. Even if you've never heard of Duran Duran, or have no idea what a Commodore 64 is, you'll still be fascinated by how much pop culture Cline can cram into a fast-paced plot.
General premise An eccentric billionaire named Halliday creates a virtual reality universe and hides an Easter egg (one of many video-game terms explained in the book) on one of thousands of virtual planets. In a video clip that enthralls the world, he leaves his $240 billion fortune to the first person who solves all the clues, survives all the quests, claims all three keys, and finds the prize. The announcement video is a collage of clips from John Hughes movies and '80s music videos, a clue in itself.
Wade Watts, an orphan living in the crime-ridden, global-warmed, poverty-stricken post-apocalyptic future, is the first gunter (short for egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, level one of the three-level quest. Overnight, he becomes a celebrity.
His achievement draws the attention of IOI, villains in the form of corporate gamers. Honest gunters have to know the trivia and solve the clues themselves, while braving dangers typical of FPS games. The cheating IOI employees, also known as Sux0rz, use proprietary software that allows them to work in groups as well as share knowledge, weapons and armor. This way (and unlike for everyone else), their avatars never really die.
IOI tries to recruit Wade, bringing his avatar to their blinged-out planet (even virtual riches cost real money) to impress him with offers of untold wealth. When Wade refuses, they come after him in the real world, intent on eliminating him so he doesn't win the money first. Wade is suddenly on the run in real life, complicating his ability to logon and continue his quest.
Much like with An Abundance of Katherines and The Black Prism, for months after reading Ready Player One I recommended it to anyone who spoke to me for more than three minutes. It has everything - evil villains who will stop at nothing, unrequited love, people who aren't what they seem to be online, and a bright but lonely boy who must find his prize before his enemies find him.