First of all, it's important to make clear that this is a top-to-bottom geek-a-thon. This novel can - and should - be completely avoided if you have no interest in videogames, virtual worlds, Japanese robots, or the pop-culture of the 1980s. It is simply stuffed to the gills with an extraordinary amount of, well, the stuff that falls into that broad category. And even if you do have an interest in some or all of these things, it may still be worth quickly skimming the first few pages to see if you'll get along with the book. I reckon that, conservatively, at least 95% of the (reading) population will simply be appalled.
Though I am in the remaining 5%, I definitely wouldn't say that I'm a total cheerleader for this book. True, I have an unhealthy interest in videogames, but even I baulked at the sheer depth of trash-culture referencing going on here. However, in spite of this, and in spite of my better judgement at times, I still enjoyed this book - albeit as a totally throwaway read. I'm really not sure who I'd be recommending it to - even fellow videogame players!
Anyway, on the plus side, as well as taking videogames and virtual worlds (semi-)seriously for once, the novel is so full of love for the geeky trash-culture of a particular time (the 1980s) that it can easily carry one along. It's structured not dissimilarly to a videogame, with a succession of progressively harder puzzles to be solved, and passes enjoyably enough with a number of stereotypical gamer characters and a couple of nice setpiece twists and turns. On the down side, it's a little predictable to say the least - there's never seriously any doubt about how it's ultimately going to work out. To be fair, it's not structured as continuous progress to a goal - Wade does wallow quite a while in the various set-backs that he suffers.
One aspect that really did tire me after a point was its total reverence for 1980s videogames, and even then for a particular subset of them. Having revisited the games that I played back then from time to time, I've come to realise how hopelessly simplified most of them are relative to modern titles. With a few exceptions - Damocles being a personal favourite - it's just not possible for games that sat comfortably within a RAM space of 64KB to provide anything near the broad experience of something that occupies 1GB. Sure, some eminently satisfying titles are sufficiently simple that they simply don't need such resources - Dropzone springs to mind - but they're rare beasts. So, eventually, Wade's unending enthusiasm for 1980s title after 1980s title seriously began to grate on me.
Anyway ... it is absolutely safe to say that with such a premise this book will only ever appeal to a small minority of readers. And then, once this small population starts to read it, it will likely appeal to an even smaller minority of them! But I did enjoy it's overbearing enthusiasms, its sappy love story and its predictable ebbing and flowing. But I'm deleting it from my memory right now.
Finally, I just have to say that, while totally geeky myself, I simply cannot see the slightest interest in Japanese robots. WTF?