Ready Player Two is an enjoyable read that keeps the spirit and overall feel of the first book, with a few chapters in the middle that are a bit difficult to slog through. Worth a read though.
Ready Player Two is the aptly named sequel to Ready Player One. It picks up shortly after the end of the first book with four heroes ‘enjoying’ their lives to varying degrees, now as owners of the corporation that controls the OASIS. Similar to the first book, the sequel takes us on a new journey through an epic quest with even higher stakes. Instead of three gates now we’re faced with finding seven shards, each tied to a planet within the OASIS.
The main character and hero of the first book, Wade Watts, can’t find the first of seven shards and ends up paying someone a billion dollars for instructions to find it. The second comes after playing the ‘Sega Ninja’ arcade game in a specific place and completing the entire game. That takes us to the planet Shermer, a tribute to all things John Hughes. For this shard, rather than feeling like I was reading a well-written book, it felt more like reading a Wikipedia page with a vague plot instead. Factoid after factoid about John Hughes, his movies, characters in the movies, alternate scripts to the movies, and a lot of other pedantic details was poorly conceived.
The third shard takes us to Halcydonia, a planet designed to provide free education to any child in the world. After a lot of words for perhaps the easiest quest, the fourth shard bears the symbol of Prince and leads us to a planet ‘named’ in the same fashion. This becomes yet another Wikipedia page thinly disguised as a book chapter and bogs down the flow of the book. Even worse, the Prince quest drags on for several chapters. After an interesting battle with seven iterations of Prince, the next quest takes us into the world of Tolkien but not the more mainstream literature like the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. With six shards in hand, Wade uses them to create the seventh shard and the actual plot continues. From here the rest of the story unfolds rapidly and is considerably more enjoyable.
The books are set in the year 2045 and focused heavily on ‘retro’ culture, meaning us readers are well versed on many of the cultural aspects of the story like John Hughes, arcade games, Prince, and Tolkein. Since the story is set more than 20 years in the future, we’re given a good description of the technology that makes it possible and the state of the world. What is completely missing is any notion of anything cultural between the death of Prince and the time of the story. While I wouldn’t necessarily want to get distracted with a shard quest centered on a fictional piece of culture, I think the author has the writing chops to do exactly that and make it interesting, but does not.
Cline has been praised for his depiction of gender and sexuality in the book, and he deserves some credit for sure. During that bit, Wade tells us that with the new technology he had experienced sex as and with different genders and orientations. Cline should have made Wade decide to realize he is pansexual after his admitted experiences having sex with and as different genders. But that little bit about the technology’s ability to let one experience sex differently is mostly relegated to one page of one chapter and ultimately, the book falls on some common stereotypes in my eyes. The white girls knows all about John Hughes movies. The black girl knows all about Prince. The white boy and white girl know all about Tolkien. The Japanese boy knows the Japanese video game. Every main character has a hetero orientation except Aech, a lesbian. The only other character that suggests a different orientation, L0hengrin, is quickly glossed over. Even worse, she is potentially the most interesting new character of the entire book but is quickly put out of mind and used as a plot advancement point later with little fanfare.
Finally, while I really enjoy most of Cline’s writing style, there are small parts of the book that seem to break from the style of the first book and instead, are written as if they are lines from a movie script. In the board room when the four heroes meet the Low Five, they “run over to” greet them. In a board room with 10 people in it, there isn’t room to ‘run’. The main characters are treated as gods in the OASIS essentially, yet act like starry-eyed fans of someone that has already been written as a starry-eyed fan of them. This single scene had so many disconnects in my mind it stood out and made me wonder if Cline got distracted with notions of what the movie will look like.
Reference: Ready Player Two on Wikipedia.