🕹️ Players Gonna Play, Play, Play, Play, Play...
The Crime: Ready Player Two
The Guilty Party: Ernest Cline
Overview: A clumsy retread of Ready Player One that wants to make damned sure we know its author isn't actually a bigot.
Why I Hate It...This book is kind of a fascinating failure. It has some enjoyable moments and it ticks off all the boxes of what you would expect in a sequel--same characters, same setting, similar story and tone, higher stakes, bigger and broader obstacles, that kind of thing--and yet it mostly doesn't work.
I loved Ready Player One. I fully acknowledge that the criticisms around representation are 100% merited, and yet I still had a great time reading it. At the end of that book, the protagonist Wade is basically a god in the world of the Oasis, having ascended to the role that Oasis-creator James Halliday had originally taken for himself. So where does a sequel go from there? I would think there are interesting questions to be asked about what it means to be all-powerful in an artificial world, and how that power might be corrosive. And, indeed, the novel starts going that direction a little bit with Wade becoming the evil corporation he overthrew in RP1, but then it doesn't actually do anything with that. Instead, Wade gets Metroided back to zero so he can start over in yet another fetch quest organized once again by the late Halliday, but this time there are seven Maguffins to find instead of six, and he only has twelve hours to complete it, and there are millions of lives at stake if he fails. Sorrento is back as a primary antagonist. Wade even breaks up with his new girlfriend Samantha just so they can get back together as part of the resolution.
This would be forgivable if it were fun to read but, unfortunately, it's not. The mechanics of the plot require an awful lot of table-setting, so the over-long first act of the novel feels kind of pointless but also very rushed. Major character beats happen off-screen and are retold in flashback or in summary. Leading characters aren't introduced at all; it's just assumed that you remember them from RP1. Potentially interesting questions are occasionally hinted at, but then never addressed. And the new technological "toy" driving the story, a neural interface that allows you to feel and taste the internet--I mean the Oasis--in a super-realistic way, isn't nearly as cool on the page as Cline treats it. And the ethical implications of such a technological leap aren't engaged with or thought out. I mean, what's the point of doing sci-fi with brain-interfaces if you aren't going to turn it into a philosophical treatise on solipsism? Bro, have you even seen The Matrix?
A good chunk of the story also feels like apologia for the previous book, which was pure middle-aged-cis-white-dude nostalgia porn. It's telling that Ready Player One's exploration of significant music from the 80s starts and ends with Rush and completely ignores Michael Jackson or the birth of hip-hop. So now Cline's trying to make up for it. Musical references now include non-white artists, including an entire level devoted to Prince. Diversity! Another level is devoted the history of the game Ninja Princess and how its female lead character was erased in the American version. Feminism! Oh, hey, we've got a trans character. We don't see any of their individual struggle or personal challenges, but they are trans, and the hero is totally cool with that. Representation! It feels very artificial, since an entire chapter fawning over Prince just serves to remind you of the complete lack of diversity in the previous book. But I guess it's good that he's trying. It's clumsy, but it's kind of adorable.
The story finally starts to get going around the 40% mark, but there's no character arc or growth to speak of, and the title doesn't make any sense at all if it's just going to be another story about Wade (seriously... is there a good reason this story couldn't have been told from, for instance, Samantha's POV?). I found myself rolling my eyes a lot and never really engaging with the material or caring about the conflicts. Hell, even the prose is dull. Every sword is held "aloft". Every setting is "lovingly detailed". Find other words, sir! The final fight is compelling in its own way, but you can't wait until the last few chapters to finally get me interested. Oh, and then there's a coda that is completely batshit insane and I'm going to spoil it in the next paragraph so there's your warning.
In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.