Ready or Not, it’s ‘Ready Player Two’

Bad sex scenes, virtual-reality nonsense, and 80s trash-culture pastiche

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was a jukebox musical for trash culture of the 80’s, a vision of a near-future dystopia where things were so bad, Zaxxon and Twisted Sister were classic works of art meriting serious scholarly attention. Life is certainly imitating art, at least as far as the dystopian nature of 2020 is concerned. So who wouldn’t want to read a sequel?

Ready Player Two picks up in medias res after the events of the first book. Our hero, teen gamer Wade Watts, and his motley group of Internet friends have solved the mysterious riddles of one James Halliday, inventor of the OASIS, which is some sort of futuristic extra-cool Second Life for our environmentally-ravaged future. By virtue of finding the many Easter Eggs Halliday has hidden around the Internet and learning the minutiae of the movies and video games he loved, Wade has inherited his company and become the richest and most famous man in the world. Everything is swell! Except that Halliday has left Wade one more thing: an advanced neural interface which allows the user full sensory overload instead of the crummy old immersive VR experiences of yore.

Ready Player Two

“I was awestruck by the perfect replication of all that interlinked sensory input,” Wade enthuses, munching on a virtual apple, his olfactory system in kinetic overdrive. “These were subtle, nuanced sensations that could never be re-created or simulated by a pair of haptic gloves.

Okay, so Proust this is not. In the hands of a more agile writer, there might be ripe potential for satire here; Halliday is, quite literally, a deus ex machina figure, constantly one step ahead of his billions of devoted OASIS minions. If it weren’t for Cline’s obvious affection for the sheer hubris of creating a virtual world in one’s image, Halliday would seem like a mustache-twirling digital archvillain, a Bezos writ large.

That’s the overwhelming issue with the Ready Player Whatever universe: at no point does Cline question the wisdom of an all-encompassing monoculture that screeches to a halt around 1988, while technology evolves at hyperspeed around it. “Ah, the good old days,” he sighs, and writes another chapter about fucking Donkey Kong or whatever. He’s the Gamemaster Anthony of genre fiction, a clunky stylist content to wallop the reader over the head with a never-ending barrage of “Remember when?”s.

In Ready Player One, the main antagonists were the corporate suits of Innovative Online Industries, which was sort of a combination of a for-profit online university and an internment camp. By the end of the first chapter of Ready Player Two, our heroes have managed a hostile takeover of IOI and transformed themselves into “an unstoppable megacorporation with a global monopoly on the world’s most popular entertainment, education, and communications platform,” as well as releasing all of IOI’s indentured servants and, presumably, creating a massive labor crisis. But they finally manage to pay off the national debt and donate hundreds of billions of dollars to solve world poverty, or something. So that’s nice!

Their efforts to ditch this crappy planet and terraform the nearest habitable rock eventually fall by the wayside when an evil sentient AI springs the murderous CEO of IOI out of prison and forces our heroes to go on a lengthy fetch quest through VR time and space to retrieve the seven pieces of–oh, who cares. At this point you already know whether or not Ready Player Two is the book for you. It is not the book for me.

Cline had some legitimately good ideas the first time around. There’s potential in interrogating the nature of escapism in times of social upheaval. This time, though, instead of character development, he’s chosen to double down on lengthy, dull descriptions of battle scenes and minutely-detailed virtual worlds. A complicated boss fight against Prince–yes, Prince–is crassly opportunistic even by the standards of posthumous tributes to Prince. A climactic showdown in Middle-Earth is as monotonous and impenetrable as “The Silmarillion” itself.

Add to that some of the most excruciating sex scenes in recent fiction and you’ve got the stuff of nightmares. “We lost our virginity to each other three days after that first kiss,” Wade reminisces. “Then we spent the rest of that week sneaking off to make the beast with two backs at every opportunity. Like Depeche Mode, we just couldn’t get enough.” Oh, brother. Luckily hours of futuristic VR porn have cured him of that pesky bout of transphobia, and his own dalliance with omnipotence has provided him with valuable insight as to the human condition.

Cline muses, in full “Jordan Peterson gets an Oculus Quest” mode: “Human beings were never meant to participate in a worldwide social network comprised [sic] of billions of people. We were designed by evolution to be hunter-gatherers, with the mental capacity to interact and socialize with the other members of our tribe–a tribe made up of a few hundred other people at most.” Like so much of Cline’s writing, this is cheap introspection disguised as trenchant insight.

Maybe the freshman seminar-level Big Ideas of this book will make more sense when Steven Spielberg or whoever inevitably turns it into another expensive action-movie pastiche. The ‘Ready Player One’ movie grossed nearly $600 million, and an adaptation of ‘Ready Player Two’ can’t be far behind. This book is criticism-proof; the people who ate it up the first time are just going to gorge on it again. They didn’t even bother to send out advance copies for review.

When I finished reading it, I felt physically drained, exhausted after living in Ernest Cline’s head for nearly 400 pages of Animotion and Van Hagar, John Hughes movies and bad video games. I needed a break from the constant clanging drone of coin-op nostalgia. I stumbled outside to get some fresh air. Like Depeche Mode, I enjoyed the silence.

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Daniel Cohen

Daniel Cohen is a software developer who lives in Syracuse, New York. He has written for Yard Work, The Guardian, and Maura Magazine.

17 thoughts on “Ready or Not, it’s ‘Ready Player Two’

  • November 24, 2020 at 12:19 pm
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    It’s appalling how you insult both the Silmarillion and Gamemaster Anthony, two of the greatest creations of the 20th century.

    Reply
  • November 24, 2020 at 1:38 pm
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    Wade Watts* not Wells

    Reply
  • November 24, 2020 at 5:09 pm
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    Roblox is hosting a Ready Player Two treasure hunt inside its own virtual universe

    What else should be in the OASIS in Ready player two
    Should be a Easter eggs and references.

    When he acquires a magical universal remote wade found that enables him to “fast forward” through unpleasant or outright

    dull parts of his life, he soon learns that those seemingly bad moments that he skips over contained, CGI mixed with Stay

    tuned they inside Saw 2

    Magical universal Bop It that enables him to “fast forward” through unpleasant or outright dull parts of his life, he soon

    learns that those seemingly bad moments that he skips over contained as Easter egg.

    Princess and the bride

    Terminator 2

    Die hard

    Transformers cube

    Click

    Reply
    • November 25, 2020 at 7:31 am
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      I mean good thing I dont need Cline to write a masterpiece, this is a great toilet popcorn book, fact.

      Reply
  • November 24, 2020 at 5:39 pm
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    Amazing review. Thank you. Had just started listening to it, going holy crap this is bad.

    Books need riff tracks.

    Reply
  • November 24, 2020 at 6:19 pm
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    You lost all credibility first when you didn’t even get the main characters name right (Wade Wells?!?) and second when you outright admitted this isn’t a book for you. The whole “review” sounds like a pissed off teenager complaining about having to read a book for school. No, it’s not a literary masterpiece, but it wasn’t like it was the worst thing ever published. I bet you’re a blast at parties with your hateful cynicism!

    Reply
    • November 24, 2020 at 7:16 pm
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      We have fixed the name of the protagonist. Apologies to the author and to the protagonist. We do not apologize for the opinion.

      Reply
    • November 25, 2020 at 11:32 am
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      I’d say your review-review was spot on; and I haven’t even read the book yet.

      Reply
    • November 26, 2020 at 3:46 am
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      Actually, it is indeed the worst thing ever published.

      Reply
    • November 26, 2020 at 4:06 am
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      Good grief, getting mad at a book reviewer for reviewing a book?

      Reply
    • November 27, 2020 at 5:31 pm
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      Exactly. Writer admits book isn’t for them, then proceeds to trash it. What a crap review. It has a specific audience and both books have been clear about that. This isn’t Shakespeare or the all American novel. I don’t know what’s worse, people like this writing reviews or the people actually putting stock into what they have to say. It obviously wasn’t written for the reviewer or his generation. Therefore you aren’t qualified to write a review of it. I don’t like romance novels, therefore I shouldn’t be reviewing them.

      That being said, while I felt the book has some issues, and could at times be a bit overbearing with the references, the story as a whole was good. I was sad that it was over. I particularly enjoyed the beginning and catching up, and the climax/resolution.

      Reply
  • November 24, 2020 at 7:28 pm
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    Lol @ spending time ‘reviewing’ a book and not getting the main character’s name correct.

    Apparently, bookandfilmglobe.com (only found because I searched RP2) isn’t the most trusted literary publication on the web.

    Haven’t read the book yet, but will form my own opinion.

    Reply
  • November 24, 2020 at 9:08 pm
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    Hey I get that this book isn’t for everyone but geez… it was an AMAZING book. Obviously not as good as the first but still great! I glad that your opinion is the minority 🙂

    Reply
  • November 24, 2020 at 9:20 pm
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    That review was spot on. I enjoyed the first book so much. I can’t believe how bad this book is. I came online to read a few opinions and make sure it wasn’t just me. So disappointing.

    Reply
  • November 25, 2020 at 9:44 am
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    Completely agree, unfortunately. Absolutely adored the first book and I’ve been looking forward to RP2 since it was announced. I’m about half way though, and not sure if I can even be bothered to finish it. Gutted 🙁

    Reply
  • November 26, 2020 at 9:10 pm
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    I’m partway through the book. I was really looking forward to it, as I really enjoyed the first one. This is going to be harder to get through, we’ll see if I actually finish it.

    Reply

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