Book Review: Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
Series: Book 2 of Ready Player One
Publisher: Ballantine (November 24, 2020)
Length: 370 pages
Staying objective is going to be hard when it comes to reviewing the sequel to one of my favorite books in the world ever, but dammit, I will try! As well, I will endeavor to keep this review spoiler-free, providing just enough context for my thoughts to make sense, though be aware that since Ready Player Two picks up almost immediately after the end of Ready Player One, there will be some discussion of events from the first book.
As the story opens, our protagonist Wade Watts has just become a very rich man by inheriting the entire estate of James Halliday, the tech mogul behind the creation of the virtual reality network known as the OASIS. As such, Wade becomes privy to all the inner workings of the platform, leading him to the discovery that, before he died, Halliday had developed a major interface upgrade which would make being online feel more realistic and immersive than ever before. This new technology, dubbed the OASIS Neural Interface or ONI, would require the use of a specialized headset that would scan the user’s brain, creating a neurological profile that would allow for haptic and sensory feedback in-game. Not only that, for the first time ever, people would also have the ability to record and upload their real-life moments or memories to the OASIS network, which others can then access for playback, letting them live the experience through the uploader’s eyes.
As expected, the ONI update is a gamechanger, revolutionizing the use of the OASIS and its applications. Additionally, the next few years see almost every single user switch to the new specialized headsets, with only a few holdouts. But perhaps the biggest and most amazing development of all is the discovery of a new contest, another long quest chain full of riddles hidden in the OASIS by the late James Halliday. This time though, users are challenged to seek the mysterious treasure known as the Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul, which for once leaves Wade completely stumped. Unfortunately, it isn’t until it is nearly too late that he and his friends learn the true nature of the contest. By then, the stakes have become so high that Wade will have to throw everything he has into winning a game that the world cannot afford for him to lose.
To say I am conflicted is an understatement. After all, when you boil everything down to its simplest building blocks, the story of Ready Player Two is almost exactly the same as the first book. One can’t help but draw the conclusion that Ernest Cline is simply repeating the plotline in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle twice, and since practically anyone could have predicted it to be a long shot, I think it’s safe to say he missed the mark. That said, I warned myself against being overly harsh, since lack of originality is only a single measure. There are more important elements to take into account, and every so often I had to remind myself to take a step back in order to see the full picture, as I intended my rating to be a reflection of my overall enjoyment. And you know what? I did enjoy this quite a bit.
Still, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. The intro was rough, for instance. Cline obviously didn’t want to waste a second longer getting to the meat of the story, so he rushes the concept of the new OASIS upgrade, throwing the explanations together at whirlwind speeds before dumping it all unceremoniously over our heads. He also glosses over character relationships, providing little by way of development for Wade as he seemingly transforms into a spiteful, morally bankrupt, thoughtless and self-absorbed megalomaniac overnight. As a downtrodden teenage underdog protagonist going up against the Goliath that was the IOI, the Wade in Ready Player One was easy to root for, but the Wade we were forced to put up with at the beginning of Ready Player Two was an infinitely punchable dillwad.
Thankfully, things got better. By the halfway point, I found I was completely on board with the new story again despite its similarities to the first book, once more falling into the familiar rhythm of the author’s self-indulgent geekery. The 80s trivia and pop culture references are on again in full force, though admittedly they do come across as less organic than in Ready Player One, where you could practically feel each word laced with nostalgic passion. In stark contrast, some parts of this book read like snippets recited straight from a TV Tropes or Wikipedia page. Every quest felt like an excuse to saturate a section with a certain theme, whether it be Prince or John Hughes films, and it just became a bit tedious and exhausting after a while.
Despite its problems though, I still had a good time with Ready Player Two. Now that I’ve read it, I think whether this sequel was actually needed is debatable, given how similar it was to the first book, but it definitely had its moments. The action was especially on fire towards the end, and a good thing too, because without a doubt, Wade is much more relatable (and likeable) as an intrepid adventurer than a broody out-of-touch rich guy whose lack of self-awareness that made many of the novel’s social themes ring hollow, unfortunately. The technological concepts were pretty fascinating though, the way the narrative explored real-world applications of the OASIS/ONI and showed how its awesome power could be used for good or evil depending on who is in control. I also liked how a big chunk of the plot involved the lore of the OASIS, shining a light on the personal lives of the people who built the platform—James Halliday, Ogden Morrow, as well as the enigmatic Kira Underwood, the woman they both loved, whose legacy plays a huge role in this novel.
Overall, I had fun reading this and I don’t regret it at all. Yes, it is a flawed sequel, but at the same time, it is an ambitious follow-up to a book that took the world by storm, and as such, there will no escaping the high expectations and emotional stakes attached to it. Yet there is still that explosive element of pure unadulterated entertainment that can’t be denied. Pick this one up with an open mind and a willingness to go with the flow, and Ready Player Two might just surprise and delight you.