I just wanted a scavenger hunt. I wanted another romp through Ernest Cline’s OASIS, made so popular by his mega-hit novel Ready Player One. I wanted a book that didn’t make me question what I ever saw in its predecessor. Instead, I got a disjointed series of lazy spectacles, paper-thin characters, a dangerous love letter to capitalism, and a series of one-off pop culture references.
In Ready Player Two, “protagonist” Wade Watts returns. Hot on the heels of his victory against IOI and the murderous “sixers,” he and his friends now own Gregarious Simulation Systems and the entire OASIS – a massive virtual world that humankind uses for near-apocalypse escapism. But James Halliday, late creator of the OASIS, left behind a bit of technology for Wade and his buddies to distribute or destroy at will: the OASIS Neural Interface. ONI, as it’s called in the novel, taps into a user’s brain and allows them to feel everything in the OASIS as if it were real. It’s a massive step in technology that Wade and his companions Aech and Shoto immediately vote to distribute to everyone in the world. Art3mis (Samantha, Wade’s girlfriend), is the only dissenting vote.
Yada, yada, yada, every person who accesses the OASIS can now experience the virtual simulation as if it is real. So instead of using his vast wealth and influence to help people with this technology, Wade becomes a self-righteous asshole, loses his girlfriend (also the only level-headed member of the crew), and plummets into a depressive spiral. Without truly stopping to think about their responsibilities, Wade and co simply hurl globules of fuel into the gaping maw of capitalism, strengthening their company’s crushing grip on humanity. Then, in a whiplash inducing attempt at a transition, an AI copy of James Halliday shows up and holds five hundred million people hostage. To free the hostages, Wade and his friends must solve another of Halliday’s scavenger hunts–you know, those hunts that take years to solve?–in 12 hours.
I’ll give you zero guesses as to whether they succeed.
It pains me to drag a book across hot coals. I like to read, and I never pick up a book hoping to hate it. So believe me when I say I’m heartbroken at just how terribly Ready Player Two blunders. There’s *seriously* a moment where one character survives a plane crash by hiding under a ‘small stone footbridge.’ There’s also a moment where Nolan Sorrento, the previous book’s big bad evil guy, says “Don’t you kids ever get tired of picking through the wreckage of a past generation’s nostalgia?” This officially heralded the arrival of the first character I resonated with, an antagonist who is a) a lazy callback cast member from the first book and b) around for maybe four pages.
I gave Ready Player One a fine score on Goodreads, back in the days before I joined The Quill To Live. I enjoyed the fast-paced addiction-adventure scavenger hunt. I genuinely despise the recent spike in 80s nostalgia porn (yeah, lookin at you Stranger Things), but Ready Player One was fun mindless fodder that earned a pass if you didn’t dig too deep. Ready Player Two does not have that luxury.
The core plot of Ready Player Two is a discombobulated, jumbled wreck. The novel shoehorns pop culture references into its pages without ever presenting a unique idea of its own. Imagine pulling 1,000 individual pieces from 1,000 individual puzzles and combining them into some wonky abstraction. That’s what the story of Ready Player Two is. And, you know, I wouldn’t even be that upset about a bunch of useless pop culture nostalgia drops if the characters actually had to struggle at any point.
The lack of personal growth was Ready Player One’s biggest fault, and it rears its ugly head once again in this sequel. None of the challenges are challenging…at all. For any of the characters. All of the participants in the scavenger hunt have some godlike encyclopedic knowledge of everything Halliday and his co-founders ever loved. Cline tells an awful lot–avatar HP dropping to zero, a character struggling to remember some obscure trivia–but these moments pass by in short spurts of prose that do virtually nothing to capture the amazement of the OASIS. Ready Player Two’s scavenger hunt reads like Jackie Chan decided to showcase his karate skills against a class full of 5-year-olds at a strip mall dojo. At times it’s funny how ridiculously amazing Wade and his friends are at these things, but I’m laughing at them.
All of this is to say nothing of the ending, which is a weird, tonally mismatched sunshine and daisies moment that doesn’t jive with the rest of the book at all. I’ll spare you the spoilers in case you’re considering a dive into this cursed tome, but…hoo boy. I struggle to find a single element of the story that would appeal to anyone. This is a book that didn’t need to exist. Much like its heavy handed cheerleading for capitalism, the sole purpose of this novel is a payday for the author.
I’m racking my brain right now for any single reason someone should pick this book up, but I can’t find one. And no, I’m not going to do a game over joke because video games are better than this and they don’t deserve to be degraded in such a way. In a normal review, this is the juncture that calls for a quick “well, at least I had fun reading it” admission. But I can’t truthfully say that about Ready Player Two. This was one adventure that only made me happy because it ended. This sequel eschews everything that made the original great, then doubles down on lazy ideas that are done much better elsewhere in the sci-fi pantheon. I both can’t and won’t recommend Ready Player Two.
Rating: Ready Player Two – 2.0/10