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Sequels can generate a lot of excitement – the author is able to bring fans on another journey, an adventure where familiar characters have grown, learned new things and can apply them as they go. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player Two, the sequel to his original Ready Player One blockbuster novel. With a subsequent Hollywood blockbuster adaptation (by no less than Steven Spielberg himself), it’s not really surprising that a sequel was in the works.
What is surprising, however, is how much Cline remains deeply entrenched in nostalgia, or perhaps his own virtual world, much like his main character Wade Watts. There is no real forward movement, only backsliding.
At the end of the first book, Watts (Parzival) won the grand prize: James Halliday’s entire estate, which includes a controlling share of stock in his company, Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS), $240 billion dollars, Anorak’s robes (which imbues Watts with God-like powers) alongside maxed-out spells, powers, and magic items. What video game player wouldn’t be thrilled by this?
Which leads us to the sequel. Now that the quest is done, what else is there for Parzival to do? Well, it seems Halliday has a few more tricks, like a hidden message on the silver egg from Parzival’s victory that leads to a brand new type of headset: an OASIS Neural Interface (ONI), the first noninvasive brain-computer interface, with a max usage of 12 hours. This headset allows the wearer to see, hear, taste, smell, and feel the avatar’s virtual environment through the cerebral cortex. It even allows you to record experiences to be played back at any time.
What would it mean to be able to feel your avatar’s entire virtual environment? For one thing, it’d make you forget the horrific reality you were currently living in. But with a max usage of 12 hours, you’d only get a short amount of relief before you’d have to go back to the real world. And yet, of course, people wanting to escape their lives bought into the whole deal – with GSS selling a million units the first day alone.
It wasn’t until the number of units sold reached 7,777,777 that the quest for the Seven Shards was finally revealed. This time, the quest is only for Parzival to complete.
But even with his God-like powers in the OASIS, Parzival still can’t figure out the first clue. He decides to offer up a billion dollar reward for anyone who can figure it out for him. This already shows how dismissive he is with everything and everyone. Instead of focusing on using his multibillion estate to help those around him, he offers up the ONI to impoverished people like a benevolent dictator, saying, “…people didn’t mind subsisting on dried seaweed and soy protein when they could log on to the ONI-net and download a delicious 5-course meal.”
A quest wouldn’t be a quest without actual stakes though, right? After a gunter (L0hengrin) locates the first shard, all hell seems to break loose: Ogden Morrow goes missing, Halliday’s mutinous avatar Anorak steals back the robes that give Parzival his God-like powers, and a countdown to locate the other six shards begins. The consequence of not complying? Every person using the ONI device wouldn’t be able to log out after 12 hours, creating brain damage.
Of course, you’d think with such high stakes, Parzival would jump into action. He tries to but he’s unable to complete any of the riddles for the Seven Shards on his own. He has to rely on the friends he hasn’t been in touch with for some time. And generally, there’s a reason why the main character is chosen: they’re brave, they’re willing to do whatever it takes. But here, Parzival is a complete waste of space.
Cline truly disappoints in this sequel. It really seems like he forgot he had any imagination hence the sequel has the same clunky plotline held together by duct tape. Not only is the writing stunted, it lacks any sort of genuine growth in Parzival. There aren’t any ‘real’ consequences for Parzival; he ‘kills’ off trolls who are mean to him, lets them file class-action lawsuits against him but with his unlimited resources, he always comes out on top. He violates privacy laws, just to get a look at L0hengrin’s file to see her true identity.
As Parzival’s friends lead him through the quest – like, literally dragging him – he doesn’t run into any sort of troubles when going up against the final bosses. Things just fall into place perfectly as he gathers all six shards with time to spare. Even after the whole debacle with having half the world’s population trapped in the OASIS, somehow he comes out smelling like roses. And in the end, Cline uses a deus ex machina to ‘save’ the storyline.
It’s unsurprising how bad the sequel is, given the first book wasn’t great to begin with. Cline continues to reinforce how badly people want to escape the real world, with Parzival investing $300 billion dollars on a spaceship to escape the dying earth. Ready Player Two is a mess of a story, hobbling along with each of its taped-together pieces desperately trying to work. It seems Cline wants to merely ride the coattails of the success from his first book (and subsequent film), rather than come up with anything original at all. The results are somehow worse.