When it was first published, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was an underground hit with the sci-fi book community, leading to it being included in the then-popular Lootcrate mystery box market to celebrate the announcement of the book getting a Hollywood adaptation. Once Ready Player One hit cinemas, not many people were aware that Ernest was busy writing the sequel to the novel that started it all, called Ready Player Two. Now that Ready Player Two has hit shelves, albeit with some controversy, does the OASIS deserve a secondary login, or should Wade have pressed the big red button?

Title: Ready Player Two
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: LitRPG, Pop Culture Fiction, Science fiction, dystopian
Subject Matter: Video games, virtual reality, science fiction, pop culture
Format(s): Print (hardcover and paperback), e-book, audiobook
Page Count: 366
Release Date: November 24, 2020
Price: USD $20 to $30

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Logging into the OASIS again…

Set not too long after the events of Ready Player One, when Wade Watts and his friends were able to solve OASIS co-creator James Halliday’s special quest that began with his death. This led the crew into a world of references, riddles, challenges, and more, both internal and external from the virtual world, as they hunted for the fabled Easter Egg, which would give the winner complete control over Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS) and the OASIS itself.

Troubled times have set upon Wade, and his virtual avatar Parzival, as the burden of power sits heavily upon his shoulders. Financially and business-wise, Wade is in a great position. GSS has acquired IOI (Innovative Online Industries) due to the actions of Nolan Sorrento during the events of Ready Player One, which has landed Nolan in prison, serving many life sentences. Wade has moved into Halliday’s old home and has decked it out with everything he could ever want… except for one thing. His friends and his love. In the world of the OASIS, Parzival is all-powerful, thanks to his acquisition of the “Robes of Anorak,” an item that gives him complete control and access to everything in the simulation; from items, free teleportation to being able to access any users personal records (a point of contention on Twitter) from school records to birth records, and even bank accounts, and also do all these things without it being logged in any official security logs. This makes Parzival very unpopular in the OASIS, isolating him from the world.

Making things worse for Wade is that his relationships with the rest of the High Five (Shoto, Aech & Art3mis/Samantha) have become strained due to the burden of business. Since all four were given an equal share in GSS, it has everyone doing their own thing. Aech is back home in her home country, living a good life. Shoto moved back to Japan to head up GSS’s Asia division and is expecting his first child. As for Art3mis, she and Wade fell apart very quickly as her vision for what she wanted to do with her share of GSS didn’t line up with the other three, especially Wade.

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With his personal issues weighing heavily upon him, Wade discovers a piece of technology in the GSS vaults that changes the direction of the OASIS forever: The ONI (OASIS Neural Interface) headset, a prototype headset that Halliday designed before the death of Kira Morrow, which lets OASIS users access the OASIS on a new level, allowing for taste, smell, real touch, and everything else that you can do in real life, thanks to it recording a neural map of a user’s brain, essentially creating a full online backup of it. This creates a further divide between Wade and Samantha, like Wade, along with Shoto and Aech, agree to roll out the ONI headset (to great success), despite Samantha’s objection to how much control ONI users are giving to a computer.

Soon, the ONI headset is the most used piece of hardware for OASIS access, and once 7,777,777 users had logged on using the ONI, a new quest appears for “The Seven Shards of the Siren.” This leads to Wade having to begin a new quest as he is the only one who can search for the shards (or is he?). To make matters worse, a digital backup of Anorak appears in the OASIS and wants the Siren for himself, even if he has to take millions of OASIS users hostage to get it…

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The High Five Return…

There are quite a few things going on in Ready Player Two that many people might have some trouble getting around. We see themes of technological advancement in the way VR interaction is handled with the ONI headsets, the issue around how much control are people willing to give to a computer system, should we allow one man ultimate control and access to information, what can be done to save a planet where a majority of people have given up on it, what are the rights of Artificial Intelligence, is it right to resurrect the dead through digital means, and can love truly conquer all. This is the tip of the iceberg that comes to mind upon reflection on reading Ready Player Two.

I found myself drawn into the world of the OASIS, and also the return of the High Five and the other people and characters that are represented in Ready Player Two. Ernest Cline’s writing style really does grab you by the hand and draws you into his futuristic world to the point where it is hard to put the book down in order to go to sleep, get a drink, or any other distraction. Each planet that is visited is described so well that you can close your eyes and see everything in front of you, in minute detail, helping you follow along with the onslaught of references, trivia, and locations as Wade tracks down the seven shards.

What makes this more interesting is that instead of keeping things to just the High Five, making the story all about bringing the band back together, we get a split between the group that keeps them apart and having to rebuild themselves and their relationships from scratch, along with introducing new characters (especially a new non-binary character L0hengrin, who has become the topic of some contention on Twitter and Book Community circles), and keeping up with some other characters from Ready Player One who’s stories you thought were finished. Add all this in with a ticking clock trope and a rogue AI, and you’ve got a story that keeps the pace going hard and fast, but also at a rate that makes reading it a joy.

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A Love Letter…

Much like Ready Player One was a love letter to 1980s/1990s pop culture, Ready Player Two is a love letter to all things D&D/fantasy based. There are references to Lord of the Rings and even specific D&D books littered all around Ready Player Two, but it doesn’t skimp on the previous book’s themes either, with more pre-2000s pop culture references like a whole planet based around John Hughes films and a planet dedicated to music performer Prince. This makes an interesting mix of fantasy and reality that makes you really feel like you could see these things being possible in the future.

The deeper stories here come from the characters themselves. Wade is dealing with the pressures of suddenly getting one of the biggest businesses on the planet, with enough wealth to do whatever he wants, not to mention his powers inside the OASIS itself. However, the cost of all that power and wealth has caused him to go into a deep depression and seclude himself both physically and mentally from the people he trusted (and loved) the most. Then when he is forced to deal with the Anorak AI, who takes ONI users hostage in order to get the Siren, it places more pressure on Wade since he is the only one who can take on the quest and is responsible for the whole ONI mess too. What we see from here is Wade gaining confidence in himself, thanks to his friends slowly returning to his side, and that his problems were of his own creation in his head.

Helping this was the fact that a lot of Ready Player Two was written with Wade working with his friends and others a lot more than anything else that Ready Player One did when it was published. We get to see a lot more conversation between all these characters, giving them all time to build a deeper and stronger bond than just that of a random group of people thrown together by happenstance. We see a bit more about their lives outside of the OASIS too, especially Aech, Shoto, and Art3mis. With these three, we get to see that they are people away from their avatars, mostly in relationships and moving into adulthood. The High Five are no longer kids, with the exception of Wade, and it shows. As someone who loves to see characters grow older and evolve, this is a welcome change in Ready Player Two.

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Like a video game, there is some corruption…

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The one thing that quickly becomes obvious in Ready Player Two is that Ernest Cline was writing this with a film adaptation in mind, so he goes above and beyond at times to make something ultra-detailed or extends some sections of the story so that when a visual version is done, it’s going to look amazing on screen. This was a problem J.K. Rowling had after the Harry Potter movies started to gain in popularity, as her writing changed from telling a story in a book to write a movie adaptation in book form. Ready Player Two suffers this same thing, especially during the Planet Prince section, which reads like an epic fight to close out the second act.

To address the elephant in the room, meaning the “controversial” wording when referencing L0hengrin, a transexual/non-binary character who was introduced in Ready Player Two. I don’t see the problem here outside of the fact of a larger issue with the way words change and are policed by online gatekeepers via social media. Cline did well by going well out of his way to write about how sexuality is more fluid and unrestrictive than even modern conventions, including that people in the OASIS can be “øgender,” or an ONI gender identity for “individuals who chose to experience sex exclusively through their ONI headsets, and who also didn’t limit themselves to experiencing it as a specific gender or sexual orientation.” Yet for some reason, people online are choosing to trash Ready Player Two as “transphobic” due to Wade looking into the background of L0hengrin and discovering she was “DMAB” (Designated Male at Birth) instead of the more current “AMAB” (Assigned Male at Birth), which technically means the same thing, but since this is 2020, an era where those inclusive types keep moving the goalposts so that they can continue to claim victimhood status, something as trivial as this seems to grab headlines and Twitter hashtag trends. Gatekeeping at its worst, to be honest. Cline does a good job of making the reaction to this character discovery in Ready Player Two out to be “oh ok” and moving on… Something most people do these days, but rarely gets mentioned online out of fears of “normalization,” which is a bad thing for some reason.

Overall, Ready Player Two is a very good follow up to Ready Player One, something that a lot of sequels have trouble being. Outside of a small gripe with the way things are written and the outspoken minority causing shit because we can’t have good things these days, Ready Player Two is a must-read if you enjoyed Ready Player One. It tells a good follow-up story that brings a close to the story that is satisfying and finite, and once adapted into a movie, it will do the same… Unless the studio takes over and wants to make it a trilogy, then damn, it’s going to have to mess up a great book in order to do that.

Review Disclosure Statement: Ready Player Two was purchased privately for personal use and review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.

Summary

Ready Player Two is a good follow-up to Ready Player One, as it continues the story from the first book while adding enough new elements to keep readers coming back to turn pages day after day. While there is a small problem with the writing, as sometimes Ready Player Two reads like a film adaptation rather than a proper book, it wasn’t jarring enough to stop me from reading. I recommend that if you enjoyed Ready Player One, then Ready Player Two is for you. Otherwise, wait for the film.

Overall
4


About The Author

Karl Smart
Senior Editor / Reviewer

The main "Australian arm" of The Outerhaven. Karl primarily spends time playing and reviewing video games while taking time to occasionally review the latest movie or piece of gaming technology.