Goodreads: Ready Player Two
Series: Ready Player #2
An unexpected quest. Two worlds at stake. Are you ready?
Days after Oasis founder James Halliday’s contest, Wade Watts makes a discovery that changes everything. Hidden within Halliday’s vault, waiting for his heir to find, lies a technological advancement that will once again change the world and make the Oasis a thousand times more wondrous, and addictive, than even Wade dreamed possible. With it comes a new riddle and a new quest. A last Easter egg from Halliday, hinting at a mysterious prize. And an unexpected, impossibly powerful, and dangerous new rival awaits, one who will kill millions to get what he wants. Wade’s life and the future of the Oasis are again at stake, but this time the fate of humanity also hangs in the balance.
Ready Player Two feels like Cline’s response to critiques of Ready Player One, about how the book may play into toxic nerd culture. Possibly if Cline had focused more on delivering another fun romp through nostalgic pop culture references, the book wouldn’t come across as badly as it does. As it stands, however, the book is slow and poorly written, and the attempts to appear more sensitive only highlight how much work still needs to be done in making nerd culture more accessible and welcoming.
The book starts with about 100 pages of worlbuilding and plot recap, which should serve to orient readers who forget the events of Ready Player One. Far from being helpful, however, this bogs down the story, creating the perfect opportunity for bored readers to DNF. The book then bizarrely launches into a lengthy discussion of all the new technology available, with Wade blithely disregarding all the possible negative effects and the ethical implications of plugging one’s brain into the internet and having a corporation secretly back up a scan of everyone’s brain as they do so. Wade is seemingly the villain of this piece, the underdog who has transformed into the evil corporation head he used to fight. But the book does not worry overmuch about that, instead choosing to focus most of its attention on providing recaps of various movies, books, and video games–usually through extended dialogue provided by Wade who, yes, does apparently feel the need to do things like retell the entire story of Beren and Lúthien for readers who may not be in the know.
The book also immediately launches into a pages-long explanation of how new technology can help people with disabilities–an aside that feels more like an effort to try to appear sensitive for brownie points than it feels like a real acknowledgment of differences. Wade’s reference to deaf people as “hearing impaired,” a term which I understand is considered highly offensive, just drives home the sense that Cline isn’t really sure what he’s talking about here, but is attempting nonetheless to make it look like his book can move beyond white fanboy wish fulfillment. It never works.
Ready Player Two is full of awkward attempts to appear more sensitive, attempts that usually only end up highlighting how badly the story fails in this regard. For example, there is Aech’s protest at the whiteness of an 80s-movie planet and LotR, which don’t exactly feel genuine, especially when Wade cuts off Aech’s critiques with the directive to table the literary criticism for later, when they aren’t on a life-or-death quest. But what’s the point of the book bringing up these critiques if it fails to engage with them? It just feels like something thrown out there to appease any readers who might start to get miffed by the pop culture moments the book chooses to focus on.
[SPOILER ALERT!] One might argue that the entire plot is an attempt to engage with toxic nerd culture, as Wade begins to realize that his idol Halliday had a dark side–one that made him unhealthily obsessed with his best friend’s wife Kira, and that lead him to take the credit for designs and games that Kira was largely responsible for. But…the whole premise of going on a quest to try to rediscover Kira doesn’t feel like quite the answer. Kira was a real person, not a puzzle to be pieced together. And the High Five COULD try to figure out what Kira herself would have wanted in regards to her legacy, without trying to guess or to get her husband to answer for her. But the idea that Kira might have her own thoughts and desires turns out to be, not an obvious solution, but some sort of last-minute revelation apparently meant to give the book meaning. It doesn’t.
[SPOILER ALERT!] And, despite the obvious effort, I am not convinced Wade–or the book–ever has a real breakthrough moment in regards to the treatment of women. Wade still ends up with Samantha as some sort of “prize,” even though he’s presented as mean, selfish, and uncaring. And the bulk of Kira’s memories that Wade accesses still seem to revolve around her relationship with Og (and Halliday), when there could have been so much more about her career and other aspects of her life. Finally, if Wade has to access Kira’s memories and relive her experiences in order to understand that she’s a person, what hope is there for the rest of us, who don’t have access to Wade’s technology? What is the book ultimately saying about our ability to listen to and empathize with one another?
The big question Ready Player Two leaves me with, however, is whether we needed a whole book about a man, Wade, learning that other men sometimes treat women badly and that women are people, too. I’m not sure that we did.