Sequels have a job that sounds easy but is VERY hard to pull off. A great sequel takes what was great about the original entry and adds to it. Now what the “thing” that is added can vary between medium to medium. For films it could be exploring more of a world or digging deeper into a character’s history, video games can be a combination of gameplay and story execution, and books can give the same thing movies can but with a bit more context. Of course there are bad sequels that just miss the mark entirely. Be it bad character writing, retcons, or the infamous line that makes myself and the rest of my podcast crew roll our eyes, “Everything you thought you knew was wrong!” Sequels are hard, and when they’re great, they’re great, and when they’re bad, they’re pretty bad. Sadly Ready Player Two by Earnest Cline is a special type of sequel, where it’s not only bad, but it also may make me like the original less.
Ready Player Two continues right where Cline’s first book and debut novel, Ready Player One, left off. With Wade Watts (aka Parzival) looking at the Easter egg he nearly lost his life winning. On it there’s a note from the egg’s creator, James Halliday, telling the winner a location in his personal vault and the combination to get in. Inside the vault is a device that can take a person’s consciousness and plug it in directly into the OASIS (the virtual world where most of the first book took place). This new device, called a OASIS Neural Interface (ONI for short), drives a wedge between Wade, his girlfriend Samantha ( aka Art3mis) and the last living creator of the OASIS Ogden “Og” Morrow. Wade of course releases the device to the public and when he does, a new Easter egg hunt starts that only Wade can complete since he is Halliday’s heir. Along the ride something goes terribly wrong and Wade, Samantha, and their friends Aech and Shoto need to find 7 Shards of the Siren’s Soul in order to stop a madman from killing millions of people.
Before we get into spoiler territory I want to talk about parts of this story that bug me right off the bat. The story takes place again in a very dystopian near future United States and the only person who wants to do anything to truly help is Samantha. Wade and his friends actually think Earth is past the point of no return and start construction on a ship to the nearest earth-like planet with room for a few humans and several thousand frozen embryos. I get you want to stay with a dystopian future but good lord I am sick and tired of this trope. Even when Wade won the contest in the first book I thought, “Hey maybe things are going to be better and Earth won’t suck as much.” Nope. Things not only still suck, but in some areas they’ve gotten worse! Besides this and the really dumb plan to bail on Earth, the book constantly has to explain things. It has to explain literally everything, be it a reference, a movie scene, or some even that drove the characters to where they are at the present time. Just so much exposition that the first book was guilty of too. Somehow in book 2 things just go even more off the chain. Now for Ready Player One the quest doesn’t seriously start hitting high gear until around page 68. That’s when Wade figures out the first clue. In Ready Player Two the quest doesn’t really start until page 93 AND Wade had to pay someone who figured the clue out for him. One thing I somewhat liked about Wade in Ready Player One was how he was able to use his massive knowledge of 80’s pop culture to figure out the puzzle. Here he just gave up and had someone else do it with the promise of a billion dollars. This also leads into one of the book’s biggest controversies dealing with privacy and transgendered people. After winning the contest, Wade got a in game item that lets him look at the personal and private details of any OASIS user and their exact location within the simulation. Of course Wade abuses these powers multiple times throughout the beginning of the book (mostly cyberstalking his ex) and this is how he finds out that L0hengrin (the character who found the first shard) is in fact transgendered. The controversy really stems on how Wade didn’t ask for said information first AND didn’t give L0hengrin the chance for her to tell him this very personal fact about her. This makes it a bit worse when Wade goes on to say that, “Love is Love no matter what body you had at birth” as a blanket statement that he’s cool with it. In reality it feels more like Cline trying his hardest to earn internet brownie points and it backfires on him hard. The tweets I saw when this book launched about that subject weren’t pretty.
This book has no character development at all, it feels that Wade has regressed as a character. If Cline was going for the angle that money/power corrupts then he hit that part right on the head because Wade SUCKS in this book. Wade has killed those avatars that have teased/made fun of him. He cyber-stalks his ex-girlfriend and looks up people’s personal information without their knowledge or consent. Wade is supposed to be the hero of this tale but instead of rooting for him, I find that I want him to fall even harder in hopes that he learns a lesson. However he doesn’t, and he keeps trying to justify his actions by telling himself it’s for the “greater good” but it isn’t. He faces no repercussions for his actions and instead his friends are there to give him love and support. Not for invading privacy, but when Wade has to go to planet that brings up some bad and traumatic memories. Personal trauma notwithstanding, there is no conflict between him or his friends about how bad he was acting when he got the all powerful item. There was a chance for some character development, but it’s blown by the wayside.
A fair criticism of Ready Player One is the over abundance of 80’s pop culture references. Which I agree there are some that go a little too far, however this was part of the first book’s charm and from what I can remember most of the references were used well. They helped with the quest and there were some tidbits in there that had me learn something. Being a massive video game fan I appreciated this and is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Ready Player One so much. Ready Player Two goes right into the nonsense references from the start of Chapter 1. I love Back to the Future but even the opening page of chapter 1 where Wade wakes up just like Marty McFly was annoying to me. Also, fun fact, chapter 1 starts at page 27, meaning we go through over 26 pages of exposition before the story even properly starts. Even the Matrix and Sword Art Online references made me wince a bit, because eventually that’s what this book turns into. SAO with a time limit.
SPOILERS AHEAD! You’ve Been Warned
For me the book doesn’t officially pick up until page 121 when Chapter 9 starts and the true antagonist is revealed. An AI copy of Halliday’s consciousness calling himself Anorak (the name of Halliday’s avatar when he was alive) is keeping everyone who is logged in with a ONI device hostage. This spells disaster because if you use a ONI for longer than 12 hours you’re going to suffer irreparable brain damage. However, if Anorak gets all 7 shards he’ll release everyone logged into the OASIS. For good measure Anorak freed the last book’s villain, Nolan Sorrento, and kidnapped Og. This is the only part of the story where I actually wanted to continue reading the book because I wanted to know what happened next. Over 100 pages later and now we get some stakes and I thought, “Finally a reason to keep reading.” It was a slog to get this point and I wanted to know the rest. I’ve been mostly hating on this book but this is where I started getting some hope for Ready Player Two and where I have some pros about the book. Now we were finally getting into what I loved most about the first book, that being the quest. It started off great because the first stop involved a SEGA game called SEGA Ninja. This part of the quest was fun for me because I got to learn about a game I’ve never heard of before. It was here where I started getting that same feeling I got when I read Ready Player One and I was excited to keep going. However that feeling was quickly gone.
The rest of the quest has the group going to a planet that was a recreation of all of John Hughe’s films, fighting 7 incarnations of Prince (the musician formerly known as), and an era of Middle Earth from the first age that’s mentioned in The Silmarilion. The SEGA Ninja quest took up one chapter, while the John Hughes and Prince quests took up several. At first I thought I was going to like this, but as they kept going, I just wanted them to hurry up and go somewhere else. Now with a ticking clock the quest felt rushed, whereas in the first book the clock was being the first to the goal. Those took their time and there was a natural flow, whereas here it’s constant. I was hoping for a brief respite but it kept going until the end. Speaking of the end, it goes into a direction that has no catharsis whatsoever. Anorak looses in a fight with Og, Og dies directly afterwards, and the digital Kira is revived who gives Wade a rod that can “resurrect” digital copies of OASIS users if they used a ONI. Essentially creating digital copies of people. Which Wade does, he creates a copy of Og and Samantha’s grandmother and these copies, along with copies of Wade and his friends, take the space ship with the embryos to go to that earth like planet. This is also where it’s revealed that the story was being told by Digi-Wade the whole time. There is a debate for digital consciousness and the implications of people scanning their brains with the ONI but I am not qualified for that and I don’t want to get into it. I guess this ending leaves us in some sort of cliffhanger with what happens to the ship and the digital copies but it’s not satisfying at all. Sure back on Earth Wade and Samantha got married and are expecting their first child, but the audience being told that doesn’t help. I wanted to experience that not just be told, “Oh yeah, the main cast of characters are all OK.” The ending to Ready Player One had Wade just want to be with Samantha, OASIS be dammed. This just makes me mad, I don’t like it and the worst part is that Samantha tells Wade that he was RIGHT the whole time with the ONI. Throughout the whole book Samantha was against the ONI and now here she is saying that it’s OK. Wade learns nothing from this whole ordeal. Even when he tells her was wrong after Anorak made his ultimatum and he needs to right it, at the end the ONI is still being used by people. There was almost a moment of development for Wade but instead Cline just jerks the carpet from under us and Wade is essentially the same person as before.
End of Spoilers.
There is still a ton of stuff to go through here with Ready Player Two’s problems but then I’d be here all night (like how Sorrento didn’t need to be there or Samantha’s fake out death). The quest wasn’t fun, the conflict starts up very late, there is so much explaining, and no one learns a damn thing all story. I mentioned earlier that this may make me like Ready Player One a lot less than before. I’ve read that book 3 times already and each time I’ve seen the flaws in it and have accepted them. However after reading Ready Player Two I am much more aware of the problems in book 1 and it makes me not want to go back and read it. Ready Player Two just feels like a cash grab and somehow even worse than Cline’s second novel Armada. I have and read Cline’s sophomore book and at first I tricked myself into thinking it was really good. I had these big nostalgia goggles from Ready Player One on and thought Armada was going to be a huge hit. It wasn’t. Eventually I needed space on my shelf and put Armada in storage. Ready Player One still has a spot but as for Ready Player Two? I highly doubt that I’ll make room for it anytime soon, let alone read it again.