The day that Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline came out, I started being asked if I had read it. So, I got on top of it since Ready Player One was amazing. Wade Watts finds himself again at the center of a massive Easter egg hunt, this time in a brand new virtual world left behind by James Halliday before his death. Watts basically rules the OASIS, a virtual reality system that has replaced the Internet and dominates world culture. He benevolently co-rules with Aech, Atr3mis, and Shoto as the four heads of Halliday’s old company, GSS. However, when poking around his new offices, Wade finds prototype hardware for an entirely immersive VR Oasis that connects directly to a user’s brain. While he, Aech, and Shoto move to market this new tech and immediately begin dispersing it, Art3mis suddenly decides that it will destroy the already crumbling world, and she and Ogden Morrow refuse to ever use it. She also dumps Wade. As the rest of the world uses the new VR, suddenly Halliday’s avatar, Anorak comes to life as a malicious AI who desperately wants Wade to solve one final Easter Egg hunt left by Halliday. The focus of this Easter egg hunt, however, centers on Halliday’s unrequited love for Og’s wife, Kira.
There’s a lot to like here, since the OASIS revolves around fandom. How better to explore a world like the OASIS than through the passions of creatives? Wade and his friends find clues on planets designed after classic video games, John Hughes movies, the music of Prince, and best of all, Tolkien’s legendarium. Well, best of all for a book blogger. I will admit that my John Hughes knowledge begins and ends with Home Alone. And much like Wade Watts, the Prince album I had listened to the most, until recently, had been the Batman soundtrack. However, I’ve listened to Purple Rain at least twice in the last week. The Prince clue in the egg hunt made me want to because it was undeniable fun. The mission to Middle Earth was great. I’m a Tolkien guy, and even though I’ve only read The Silmarillion once, I solved the clues easily alongside Wade. The world of the OASIS absolutely glows during the puzzles, just as it did in the last installment.
Unfortunately, these puzzles, much like the OASIS itself, sit embedded in a problematic world. After the last several years of watching real world big media companies wrangle for dominance, Wade’s total embrace of corporate cultural supremacy seems disturbingly optimistic. He spends a couple of chapters that felt more like extended prologues mentioning all the problems that the OASIS and GSS have fixed. For example, people who can’t physically see in the real world can in the OASIS because technology. But there’s problems that Wade can’t fix, too. He can’t convince Art3mis to give him a second chance (until there’s a puzzle to be solved, then it’s like she never left). He can’t feed the poor. He mentions cities that are dangerous, all in the Middle East or India, without exploring any geopolitics. Other avenues feel half-explored, as if they might come up later, but Wade never gets around to it. He befriends a gunter named L0hengrin, whom he sees both as similar to himself and as a possible attraction, learns that Lo does not conform to traditional gender identities, and there the relationship stops growing in complexity. Lo merely cheers him and brings him a helpful tool near the end of the book. Yet another character roots for the hero who had half the world rooting for him last time. The puzzles, loving in their content, feel a little repetitive, too. Wouldn’t an immersive VR system explore senses beyond sight and hearing? Where’s the clue where that depends on Wade’s sense of smell or taste or feel? There’s more to any world beyond the visual, and building that world a little further could have taken the OASIS to new levels.
There’s a lot of potential in Ready Player Two, but that really means that a lot of good stuff probably got left on the cutting room floor. However, nostalgia and fandom remain at the heart of the series, which draws most of its readership anyway. Ready Player Two manages to use the future to bring readers back to experiences they loved, through sincere appreciation of their passions.
Three out of five stars
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