I adored Ready Player One, but began the sequel with trepidation. The author, Ernest Cline, had captured lightning in a bottle with the first novel as it was a perfect mix of action, adventure and nostalgia. Would the sequel live up to my expectations?
Ready Player Two takes place a few years after the conclusion of the first book. Wade Watts, the plucky teen who persevered in winning the quests and thus became the owner of the OASIS with his friends, has fallen into a funk and is quite frankly a petulant man-child. 100 pages is spent world-building and explaining what has transpired in the years since winning, for soon after winning the contest he discovers that Halliday has left him some life-changing technology. He shows the ONI suit, which is a headset that connects into your brain to give the user a fully immersive experience within the online OASIS universe, to his friends Shoto and Aech and girlfriend Art3mis. They vote if the ONI suits should be released to the public, with Art3mis being the lone dissenter and who breaks up with Wade over their differences. Wade is destroyed by this, and tries to distract himself with a new quest that has been discovered within the OASIS. But this quest has some dark underpinnings, with a rogue AI that Halliday created in his image. Halliday had an unhealthy obsession with Kira, the deceased wife of his childhood friend and co-founder Ogden, and the quest has the group searching for the Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul. But the avatar of Halliday has turned evil and enlists the help of the villain Nolan from the last book, and puts all ONI users in danger to make Wade and his friends find the shards in one day. And so the adventure begins!
The book dives deep into certain fandoms with some of the quests centered around John Hughes movies (especially Pretty in Pink and Weird Science), the singer Prince and the Lord of the Rings universe by J.R.R. Tolkien. The story doesn’t end with the completion of the seven shards needed and there is a rather lengthy conclusion about the sanctity of life. I didn’t connect as much with the characters this time as Wade was whiny and Shoto and Aech were essentially cameos that didn’t make an impact except for their trash talking. Art3mis was the most relatable, as she alone is the voice of reason on how this new technology can alter society for the worse. The villains were ridiculous, with Nolan not needed and just thrown in the story for kicks.
As a child of the 80s, I enjoyed the nostalgia he shared in both books, but it begins to completely overload the narrative and I felt it became a vomit-fest of facts and trivia. It actually began to upset me, as there was so much emphasis put on the past and the experiences of Halliday, Og and Kira with toxic levels of nostalgia. Five years have gone by since I read RP1 and since then I have had a shift of perspectives. While I do think the 80s were a fantastic decade to grow up, who is to say that it should be lionized? Why are a few people’s past experiences better than others? This prevents others from living a full and authentic life in the here and now. I hate when people turn to the internet for all their entertainment and social contacts- they aren’t living their lives, instead they are looking to others, often celebrities, for how they think life should be lived. Before this becomes a rant on how the youth of today aren’t living right (because every single generation thinks this of a the younger ones), I do realize that everyone brings their experiences into a book and that absolutely colors their perception of it.
While this review will come across as negative, it was far from a bad book for it still had the fun elements of the first. But, I believe Cline wanted this book to have more of a message than the previous one, and he forced readers to think about how we are living too much of our lives online, and he succeeded in that. And as a side note- Wil Wheaton beautifully narrated the audio edition as he had for RP1!