Overview (No Spoilers):
Whenever a book doesn’t live up to expectations I always struggle to write a review, especially when the material in question is a follow up to a novel that was beyond fabulous. I loved every aspect of Ready Player One, from the futuristic world to the elaborate treasure hunt. When I’d stumbled across an article highlighting that Cline had a sequel in the works I was quite conflicted. Despite loving Ready Player One immensely, Cline’s sophomore novel Armada employed much of the same name and fact dropping techniques I’d loved in his first book, however the effect had surprisingly grown stale. What if Ready Player Two turns out to be just a regurgitation of Cline’s formula that had worked so well previously?
Well, it was and it wasn’t. To be honestly, I was a third of the way through Ready Player Two and I almost did something I never do and give up on a book. At the end of Ready Player One, I’d questioned what would come of giving so much power and influence to teenagers and in its sequel, Cline made those worries come to life in ways that would prove to be most difficult to enjoy reading. Jumping forward in time several years, the story is still told from the perspective of Wade Watts. Where previously, his personality quirks came across as endearing, power has made him petty, petulant, and quite frankly, a villain. When the ending does eventually come in Ready Player Two, all is forgiven and forgotten much too quickly, despite years of bad behavior on Watts’ part. Unfortunately, all of the other characters take a backseat and are minimally developed despite the solid foundations established in the preceding novel. Instead, we are given front row seats to Watts’ inner struggles and insecurities throughout this book. That being said, when time is not devoted to Watts’ pity party, the focus is shifted into the past, where we are given an a closer perspective of the dynamics between the three founders of the Oasis. While we were granted fascinating insight into the trio that significantly shaped the world created by Cline, establishing depth and emotional attachment to current characters was sacrificed as a result.
We are introduced to fun new characters who momentarily breath fresh life into a story that stalled, however their involvement was minimal, with most of their adventures taking place off screen. Perhaps, Cline introduced this new group for future novels, as their potential in Ready Player Two seemed squandered at best.
On a high note, we witness another competition that is full of suspense and an overflowing cornucopia of facts. Alas, none of these in deep dives were in areas I am particularly a fan of except for Lord of the Rings and even then it was a subset of the lore that I hadn’t yet read. Though, if you’re a Prince or John Hughes fan you will love the world and contest that Cline invents. He did make a key mistake that Magnum PI or Detroit Tigers fans will immediately pick up on, as Cline has Wade Watts don a Detroit Lions hat.
As the world faces imminent, irreversible destruction, the time influential people spend in virtual reality along with the mental effort they employ to memorize random facts from obscure pop culture, decades long past seems irresponsible to say the least. Perhaps these contests should be geared toward greater good? Also, a nonnegotiable deadline that forced all of these contests to take place in a totally unreal timeline took much of the suspense out of the story, due to requiring our protagonists to be perfect on the first try, as there wouldn’t have been time to redo the effort.
Overall, Ready Player Two contained many of the elements that made the first installment stand out, though by expanding the worldbuilding into the past, Cline neglected the development of our protagonists, much in the way that virtual reality ignores the perils facing reality.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- Wade is seriously the worst. So immature. Samatha forgave him way too quickly. She could do so much better!
- The Oasis Neural Interface sounded equal parts fascinating and terrifying. How could Wade and the others not seek more guidance before releasing it to the world? I’m not convinced that experiencing other people’s lives will actually increase empathy as Cline emphasized over and over and over again.
- I liked the inclusion of the Shard Riddle, but requiring the crew to solve it in 12 hours was ridiculous. They had to ace every test on the first try, which is totally unrealistic.
- I wanted more Lo! She was hardly in it and would have added a much needed fresh face.
- Why didn’t Anorak shadow Wade throughout the contest?
- Ugh. That ending was so bizarre. Why send out the copies into to space instead up constantly update them. What about new people being born?
- The escape of Nolan Sorrento from prison also was a strange choice. Why not have a new mystery character to mix up the cast?