An unexpected quest. Two worlds at stake. Are you ready?
Days after Oasis founder James Halliday’s contest, Wade Watts makes a discovery that changes everything. Hidden within Halliday’s vault, waiting for his heir to find, lies a technological advancement that will once again change the world and make the Oasis a thousand times more wondrous, and addictive, than even Wade dreamed possible. With it comes a new riddle and a new quest. A last Easter egg from Halliday, hinting at a mysterious prize. And an unexpected, impossibly powerful, and dangerous new rival awaits, one who will kill millions to get what he wants. Wade’s life and the future of the Oasis are again at stake, but this time the fate of humanity also hangs in the balance.
Title: Ready Player Two | Author: Ernest Cline | Publisher: Ballantine Books | Pub. Date: 24 November, 2020 | Pages: 384 | ISBN: 1524761338 | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Source: Purchased | Unstarred Review
Ready Player Two Review
It’s easy to make fun of Ernest Cline novels. Honestly, that could be the end of this review. I remembered enjoying Ready Player One when it came out (nine years ago which is wild to think about) and this is backed up by the five star rating I see I gave it back then. At the time I’m sure I enjoyed reading something that celebrated pop culture and highlighted a lot of the same media that I enjoyed. I was certainly curious to see what Cline did next.
In 2015, he released Armada and it became clear that Cline only had one trick up his sleeve. While RPO’s story provided context for why everyone was incessantly name-checking movies and tv shows, Armada had everyone doing it because I think that’s the only kind of character Cline can write. It lessened any excitement I had for Ready Player Two because it would just be more of the same. Maybe not though. Maybe Cline had listened to the near decade long criticism and would show that he’s capable of more right? Nope! If anything he doubled down on all his tendencies and here we are!
Ready Player Two answers a question I’m sure nobody was asking; what if after the events of the first book, protagonist Wade Watts became a massive asshole? The first 100 pages of this book aren’t nearly as interested in plot development as they are in Wade lulling about and musing about how everyone on the internet is mean to him and how everyone sucks but him and how nothing is ever his fault. We are introduced to a new piece of OASIS technology (the VR world where everyone just indulges in eighties nostalgia) – ONI. It lets users experience the OASIS as though they are actually there rather than playing it through a VR headset. You can taste, feel, etc. And yes of course it is used for sex stuff. Outside of that though, it’s just Wade bitterly ranting. I became convinced there wouldn’t even be a story. The story finally kicks in as we get dangerously close to the halfway point of the novel and hey what do you know, it’s the same plot as the first book.
Instead of Easter Eggs, Wade and his friends are tasked with finding seven shards (and yes of course a Super Mario RPG reference is made). These are found by solving puzzles and doing battle with all number of things from pop culture (video games, movies, books and music are all covered). A slew of references ensue. It’s meant to be the ultimate geek novel but the references are very well known properties. Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Prince. My mom could reference that shit man. And Cline still has the arrogance to explain each reference in detail like you would be too stupid to get it. It’s like hanging out with a friend who constantly says “Hey look at that car! Looks like the Ecto-1 huh? Get it? That’s from Ghostbusters you fucking dimwit.” It gets exhausting real fast.
There are villains but they are weirdly inconsequential to the story. The main baddie is Anorak, a rogue AI modeled after OASIS creator James Halliday. He is introduced, has a big speech about his nefarious goals and then largely disappears from the rest of the book. The main villain from the first book, Sorrento, also returns but he is even less important and takes up maybe three pages of this book. He has maybe my favourite moment of the whole story where he asks the leads when they’re going to stop obsessing over nostalgia and things of the past and I think we’re supposed to go “boooo! Shut up old man! You just don’t get it!” but I was pretty on board with what he was saying.
What’s unfortunate is I think there is potential in a lot of the ideas here. I absolutely believe that if society was given access to a ground-breaking virtual world, we would absolutely fill it up with things from our favourite movies, shows and games. Look at any video game with customization tools. The first thing people do is try to recreate the first level of Super Mario Bros. or Green Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog. It absolutely makes sense. The problem is that it’s done in such a boring way.
Nobody in this book talks about their favourite things with any passion. Their conversations are surface level Wikipedia entry recitals. They are always doing that thing nobody in real life does where they have to drop the year something came out whenever they mention it. That’s a weird trope often assigned to the “geek” character and I don’t know where it originates. I’ve had so many conversations about so many movies and I can’t think of a single time where somebody kept casually dropping the release years. Nobody does that! It’s no secret that fellow Kali Krew member Gracie and I are huge Silent Hill 2 fans. But when we talk about it, it doesn’t sound like this:
“Do you enjoy Silent Hill 2?”
“Yes. It was released in 2001.”
“Yep. For the Playstation 2.”
“It is a single player survival horror game where the main character is James Sunderland.”
So why are the conversations here like that?! Everyone recites facts about what they like but they hardly ever get into why they actually like them. It’s their whole existence! You would think they have some interesting things to say about them! Though when they do talk about why something is meaningful for them, it sounds like this:
“I can’t watch it without ragequitting now, but Sixteen Candles was one of my mom’s favourite movies. She loved all of Hughes’s films.”
“I remember,” I said. “After she died, you would rewatch those movies, to feel closer to her, and to try and better understand who she was. I remember telling you that I did the same thing with my dad’s comic-book collection after he died.”
Again, who talks like that?! Everything is exposition driven and it makes the dialogue feel stilted and unnatural. These are characters who have almost no defining characteristics outside of what pop culture things they enjoy. This one likes Lord of the Rings. This one likes anime. There’s not much more to them than that and when they can’t even speak to those things in an interesting way, that’s a problem.
The John Hughes section of the book is a perfect example of where things go wrong. The group end up on a planet meant to resemble Shermer, Illinois, a fictional town where a lot of John Hughes movies take place. You could do something interesting with this idea but here, it’s just lists. A list of John Hughes movies. A list of John Candy roles. A list of characters who appeared in Hughes’s movies. I can see all that shit by typing “John Hughes” into Google. Why would I need that here? We get it. Uncle Buck. I know it too. Do something!
The underlying message of Cline’s books seems to be that an intense knowledge of pop culture is not a waste of time and in fact, you may one day need that information to save the planet! See?! I told you watching War Games 100 times would pay off! You might as well call these books “Take tha,t mom!” I’m all for a celebration of pop culture but let’s not go nuts. It reminds me a lot of that Adam Sandler movie Pixels, which is not something anyone would want to be compared to.
Are remakes of books a thing? Because I would love for someone else to have a crack at these exact stories. You could make a good read around a collapsing society who relies completely on a virtual world to ignore their very real problems. But now anybody who tries will be written off as a Ready Player One/Two rip-off which is unfortunate. I truly wanted to like this book but it was determined not to let me. I really hope Cline’s fourth book is something wildly different because this well is beyond tapped. Most likely he’ll go further down the road and his next book will just have fill in the blank spots for you to write in the things you like instead.
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