52 Book Challenge #1 – Ready Player Two

Hello everybody, and welcome to something I’ve wanted to do, but on the cusp of New Years, I figured “What better time to start than the present?”

The Fifty Two Book Challenge is reading a book a week, totaling fifty two books. I have wanted to attempt this, and I thought of doing it with a book I received back in November, Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline.

Me and Ready Player One, Cline’s first novel, have been in a Love-Hate relationship for the better half of my teenage years. The story of Wade Watts, hopping into Virtual Reality as a form of escapism, solving an Easter Egg Hunt, and going on to becoming the richest man in the world, is an interesting one. Full of 80s film and gaming references, RP1 is a treat to go through, and a breeze.

But, like any book, including the things that I’m writing or have already written, questions start to pop up. Cracks in the concrete start to form in the mind as you let the book settle in the sun-rays of your thoughts. I can give Cline major cheers for his creativity, I’d say his worldbuilding is a big inspiration for my story’s worldbuilding, but where Cline succeeds in creating worlds you’d want to visit, sometimes it feels as though he falls short in characters. Having been on a Cline-binge as of late, reading RP1, then Armada, and finally RP2, the main subject of this spiel(…berg, am I doing this referencing thing right?) Ready Player Two improves in many areas, but falls a tad short in others.

Ready Player Two begins right after the first book left off, a week after his kiss with Art3mis, he discovers the OASIS Neural Interface, a piece of Full-Dive Virtual Reality Technology. Over the course of the first forty pages, we learn how this technology works. You enter a comatose state for 12 hours, in which you can see, feel, touch, smell, and hear everything occurring in the OASIS. Wade, after a meeting with his friends, decides to release the technology, much to his partner’s, Samantha, derision. This leads to her dumping him, and Wade falls even further into a spiral of cockiness.

The quest revolves around Kira Underwood, one of the co-founders of GSS and the OASIS. They’re trying to gather seven shards, because a ghost in the machine has escaped and has held half a billion people hostage, not letting anyone log out until Wade gathers these seven shards. Each shard relates, in some way, to Kira’s life. So we learn more about Kira, a very minor mention in the first book, and get a better sense for who she was.

Ready Player Two feels like a course correction from the beginning. There’s a greater focus on character, with the iconic lands of Shermer, Illinois, a Prince Planet called “Afterworld,” and Middle Earth taking a backdrop for Wades growth out of an egomaniacal CEO, still trapped in teenage fantasies and daydreams. We get more backstory to his friends, like Samantha having a deceased grandmother, and now, after four years, being a humanitarian. Aech, who is revealed to be a woman in the first entry, works with slighted groups to make sure people feel included, and Shoto is a celebrity in Japan, who makes efforts to help people that were like him in the first book – loners, locked inside their cramped apartments.

Characters have now gone down in their pop-culture knowledge. Wade Watts, the genius that has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail hundreds of times and knows War Games by heart, along with having read, watched, and listened to everything that James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, loved, now doesn’t know much about Prince. He doesn’t care for Middle Earth, the world created by JRR Tolkien, even though it was mentioned to be one of Halliday’s – and the main person for this hunt, Kira’s – favorite things.

Aech knows a lot about Prince, but she refuses to watch scary movies (something taken from the Film Adaptation), and gets mad when a person disgraces “the Great Purple One.” Art3mis knows everything there is to know about Middle Earth and John Hughes films, and Shoto is knowledgeable in SEGA Video Games. Seriously, it didn’t feel as though Shoto – a member of the “High Five,” was useful for much else than that very specific topic, which comes up at the very beginning of the book, and he’s relegated to the back of the adventurer’s bus as a comic-relief figure.

I think that this is nice, it depowers the characters by a lot, and makes them each important in their own way. The dialogue between a knowledgeable individual about their one specific niche and the person who has no idea what that means, allows us to understand a reference a lot more.

The ONI is also an interesting concept, but besides the minor mention that they’re trapped, can’t log out, or mentioning the smell of, say, pizza, you forget that Wade is wearing a headset. This, to me, is because the first book already had real objects, like a hamster ball that allows for the person to really feel like they’re moving, or a smell tower that emits smells in areas.

Something I took issue with in earlier Cline works were the out-of-character, useless rambles that would pop up. One that comes to mind in the first one is Cline saying that the world is awful, and then a chat about Wade’s views of the world. That doesn’t occur here, however. And if they do, they’re done during dialogue, and they’re quickly cut short by the other characters.

There’s some minor issues that I assume will be fixed on a second printing, a character from the first book, named “I-r0k” is renamed to “I-roc,” and the 1989 Batman film was mentioned as being released in 1990. I also noticed a really glaring grammatical error when Aech and Wade were travelling through the Prince Planet, in which it read “Aech told me to me pull over,” leading me to reread it over and over again to wrap my head around what that had just said. A simple removal of the second “Me” would fix all of that.

I also was told in my AP English class that one should be careful with Allusions, as some people may not understand what you’re referencing. I think a lot of these references required essential knowledge – I’ve only listened to “When Doves Cry” by Prince, so I didn’t get the entire four chapter section of Prince, I don’t know much about Middle Earth, but it seemed as though Cline had figured not many people may, so he explained stuff to the best of his ability, and I didn’t understand much about the John Hughes section, mainly because I’ve only ever seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club. I’m not one to give ratings to the stories I’ve read, but these references had me looking up actors and actresses like I was jumping around on Kangoo Jumps XR3 Special Edition Shoes. See? That’s a very specific reference that I don’t even know.

After finishing the 366 page novel, I have come to the conclusion that I enjoyed it, basically. It went through about as fast as the first one, but I have my own issues, like the ending and some of the stuff mentioned above. I think that it’s definitely an improvement from the first, but I liked the story of the first book more. I don’t wish to dig into spoiler-territory, but the ending was something that, after closing the book, brings up a lot of questions to the world that these characters inhabit, and also to the mental gymnastics one has to go through to wrap their head around it.

As a person born in the 2000s, I recognize that this book may not be intended for me. Yeah, there’s some references I understood, like a person driving like they’re in “Grand Theft Auto” for example, but this is another love-letter to people that grew up on 80s nerd culture. So while I had fun on the ride, I’m sure this is how my girlfriend felt watching The Mandalorian while I tried to explain all of the Star Wars Lore to her: slightly confused, but smiled all the way. Maybe the next VRMMO, Science Fiction Literature Book that I’m reading for Next Week will fill my fancy: Escapist Dream by Louis Bulaong.

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