Not bad, but not very good either.
Here’s what the author does well - referencing an unbelievable amount of 80’s video games, movies and TV shows. If you’re an 80s kid or you’d like to be, you’ll enjoy the detailed play throughs of games, the discussion of finer points of movies but most often simply the constant references. Here’s an example of a reference I loved - when the good guys need to attack the bad guys’ base but are waiting for someone to destroy the protective shield one of them says “we need to give Han more time!” You’ll love it if you understand the references. Otherwise it’s possible that it’ll fall flat.
The story maintains a good pace too. It rarely slows down. The plans concocted and executed by the good guys are fun to read.
And that’s pretty much it for the good parts. Now for the rest.
The Good Guys are very Good, and the Bad Guys are very Bad. There’s not even an attempt to make either side greyish. I don’t know about you but such characters are dead boring to read about. Unfortunately, no character ever has to make a tough choice in this book.
All the good guys follow the same template. It’s basically the same character several times, except for the Japanese characters. The Japanese characters are straight out of The Last Samurai, who can’t form a single sentence without the word “honour” in it. Maybe that’s how Japanese people in 1850 spoke, but this novel is set in 2050.
Since all the characters are the same, it’s not surprising that they talk with the same mannerisms. They seemingly know only 2 adjectives - epic and lame. (the main character feels “epic loneliness” after a family member dies. Another character criticising a movie says “it’s fucking lame! And the soundtrack is epically lame! Lame-o-Rama! Beyond lame! Highlander II lame!”)
Good books show you things and trust you to form your own conclusions. Bad books will tell you the conclusion, just in case you don’t get it. This book falls in the latter category. Example - a newly introduced character motormouths for 2 pages without pause and then says “I tend to ramble when I’m nervous or excited.” Thanks for telling us your character traits, new character!
The dialogue is unbearable. Rather than have the characters talk like normal people, the author chose to have all dialogue replaced with cliches. (“Revenge is a dish best served cold”, “rearranging deck chairs on the titanic”, “it’s not over till the fat lady sings right?”, “it’s not over till it’s over. And it’s not over”). The best parts of the book are the ones with no dialogue at all.
All of this is only nitpicking though. Maybe you can forgive the dialogue and the one dimensional characters. The issue that I think is most difficult to overlook is that this - it does not present any new ideas so it doesn’t ask any difficult questions of you, the reader. Its just action and references. The author is in such a rush to reference as many things as possible that he forgets to actually put any ideas. Around the end he realises this, so he has all the characters suddenly decide that the real world is much better than the virtual world, even though they hardly spend any time in the real world. This epiphany the characters have feels tacked on, and would hardly make a difference to the novel if it was dropped.
I totally understand that some people will enjoy this anyway. That’s fine. I enjoyed the hell out of action-with-no-plot-or-characters movie genre, and a lot of people would be looking for the same from a book.