Spoilers for Ready Player Two follow. You can thank me later.
I have been debating whether or not to write this article. The main reason for that is because I am sure this article will be me ranting about a book I did not like. But just out of curiosity and to spice things up in this blog, I decided to go ahead and record my opinions about the book. So, Ready Player Two...
I found out about the existence of Ready Player Two from a tweet, where someone was gifted the book for Christmas and he was expressing his excitement. This got me excited as well and I quickly gained access to the book.
At the end of the first book, Wade (it took me a Google search to remember his name. I have no idea why it slipped my mind) and his friends get access to the entire Halliday fortune. The opening few pages of the book picks up from 9 days following up the events of the first book. There is a massive exposition dump and events are told to you instead of seamlessly shown. It got a little irritating as I kept waiting for the story to get started.
Ready Player Two
Let me start with the name. It comes of as smart and good for marketing, would have actually hit the mark if the author did not make an unnecessary reference to it in the book and rub it in your face.
I - like every other ONI user to come - was greeted by a new message Halliday had created, to welcome those visitors who adopted his new technology:
READY PLAYER TWO
This is in the 15th page. It only gets worse from there. There is no connection nor sense for Halliday or anyone to greet a user with "Ready Player Two" unless it is a multiplayer or has Cline forgotten how games work and what the messages stand for.
The ONI headset
When the rest of the group have gone some place, Wade finds this new piece of technology left behind by Halliday, the founder of the OASIS. James Halliday had invented a non-invasive brain-computer interface, which he dubbed as OASIS Neural Interface (ONI). It allowed user to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel their avatar's virtual environment. It could also allow users to record their experiences in the real world, which can be played back in the OASIS.
The concept of a brain-computer interface headset that allowed you to record, play back, and/or simulate a human being’s entire sensory experience had appeared in a bunch of Halliday’s favorite sci-fi novels, TV shows, and movies.
We are not given an explanation or any kind of logical reasoning as to how Halliday invented it apart from "sheer will and brainpower" (the books words exactly). It reminded me of the Tamil movie, Robot, where the protagonist, a scientist, creates a human-like robot single handedly by working on it for 10 years. There is a brief explanation later as to Halliday conducting secret experiments on the technology, but this feels disconnected to the flow. Funding and secrets experiments to explain the discovery come way into the book. This is a good example of how disconnected the book is. This is not the only time that Cline has given the feeling of this book being a rough draft with multiple disconnections and reiterations of the same facts.
Coming to the tech itself, this was next level and at this point, I was really excited to see how this would play out. The concept of recording user experiences and reliving it was recently showcased in Cyberpunk 2077 in the form of Braindance (BD). It would be interesting to see another take on this.
The book then brings in the consideration of releasing such a technology to masses and its consequences. Using it, puts the wearer at risk as his brain is directly interfaced to the computer. This concern is raised only by Samantha, Wade's girlfriend. Pop culture references are made.
Haven’t any of you rewatched The Matrix lately? Or Sword Art Online? Plugging your brain and your nervous system directly into a computer simulation is never a good idea! We’re talking about giving complete control of our minds to a machine. Turning ourselves into cyborgs...
This is again dealt on the surface level and the ONI headset is voted to be released. At this point, Samantha breaks up with Wade. This is still 9 days after the first book's end.
Halliday went so far as to include the specs of the device as well as the most effective method to mass manufacture the device (such a plot convenience). Upon release, the device becomes a massive success. Fast forward three years and the world is addicted to the ONI technology.
It is made clear that everyone's brain scans are stored in the OASIS. This data is used to "improve the safety and operability of the ONI headset". Wade refers to users as "a huge pool of willing guinea pigs". This made Wade seem so unethical and corporate. It made no sense on his character arc.
Compounding this problem was the fact that we didn’t purge any OASIS user’s account data when they died in the real world, including those huge UBS files. Faisal explained to me that this was because we own all of that data, and it was extremely valuable to the company for several reasons, including shit like “user marketing trend analysis.” But the main reason we held on to those ONI user brain scans was because that data helped our neural-interface engineers improve the safety and operability of the ONI headset. That was why our neural-interface software and the hardware both worked so flawlessly on such a wide variety of people. Because we had such a huge pool of willing guinea pigs who didn’t mind giving us complete access to the contents of their skull, as long we gave them access to our high-quality sensory-immersive bread-and-circus simulator.
Quest for 7 Shards
Once the ONI headset users reached 7,777,777, a new quest for 7 shards gets triggered with a riddle: For each fragment the heir must pay a toll to make the Siren whole. The Siren it seems referred to Kira Morrow, wife of Ogden Morrow, who was Halliday's partner.
The quest seems to be a throwback to the Easter Egg Hunt in the first book and many users seem to think so too, but the hunt was on with a new generation of gunters or so it seemed. I believe it is the only time in the book when other gunters are mentioned apart from the time when Wade pays a gunter, L0hengrin, to get the clue to the first Shard.
At one point, Wade even has a thought that the quest was meant only for the heir, that is him, but he dismisses this with the fact that the Shard Riddle was sent out to everyone. But it seems pointless as only the heir can touch the Shard and unlock the next clue. So, no matter who finds the Shard, he/she cannot progress without the heir. Another instance of Cline contradicting himself. In fact, in the end, it is made clear that the quest is for Wade or Og, either of Halliday's heirs as they have to make the decision on the next technology (yes there's another level).
After the first Shard is unlocked, the main antagonist of the book is introduced as Anorak, Halliday's avatar, the quest giver in the first book. Anorak seems to be portrayed as a rogue AI, who is out to get the Siren's soul for himself. He even breaks out Nolan Sorrento to help him kidnap Og and progress the quest. Og denies to help after getting 3 shards and Anorak is forced to get Wade involved. Anorak holds every OASIS user who is logged in with the ONI hardware as hostage asking Wade to find the rest of the Shards.
Where the first book took the quests for the 3 Easter Egg over a period of time, this book sets out a 12 hour limit for the completion of 7 quests. I have no idea why the author chose this route or even introduce an antagonist at all. The quests themselves are a major snooze fest.
The quests involve places where Kira contributed in some way: the room where the 3 played D&D as kids, the evening at the arcade with Og. A quest in Halcydonia, the education planet, created by Og and Kira, connected in some way to Wade. Then, there are the pop culture references, poorly disguised playthroughs of the author living his fantasies: of famous 80s John Hughes movies in Shermer high school, the seven Princes (the Purple One) and the quest of Beren and Luthien in Arda I, Middle Earth. I was so bored by this point that I skipping through the pages waiting for the story to reach it's end.
At the 2nd quest, I figured out that the Siren's Soul was Kira's consciousness copied into the OASIS. Maybe this was because I was playing a lot of Cyberpunk 2077 and I made the Johnny Silverhand- Kira Morrow connection. But I feel it is a poorly hidden secret by the author. He downright openly says the Siren is Kira. So, it makes sense that her soul would be her consciousness in the virtual world. This is, of course, made as a big reveal in the end, with the fact that Halliday invented the mind copying device as well.
Halliday copied over Kira in hopes of winning her over but upon realizing she still loved Og, split her soul into 7 Shards and left the decision to take care of the technology to his heir through the quest (No idea why the quest was made public esp. with such dangerous game-changing tech at stake). Also, since every ONI user's brain scans are copied over, every user can be reawakened in the OASIS including dead users.
P.S. Anorak was a copy of Halliday's mind.
Then, there comes a final clash where Og's avatar defeats Anorak, but he really dies in the process. However, his consciousness is copied over and all is good. In fact, the book ends with Wade and his friends sending their consciousness into space with human embryos. It is revealed that this entire story is narrated by DPC (digitized player character) Wade who is hanging out with DPC Samantha in the space OASIS.
Resigning to our Fate
In Ready Player One, Cline made a note on the state of the planet and how people used OASIS as a means of escape. It was an interesting commentary on our escapism, where we would do anything to hide away from reality. He even concluded the book by saying that Wade shut down the OASIS a couple of days in the week, so people would engage with the real world.
However, in this book, the whole scenarios is flipped. Wade adopts a cynical mentality and just gives in, choosing to release an addictive technology to the masses without considering the consequences. In fact, if you think about, he actually has no solid motivation to release it to everyone. It would have made more sense if he provided access selectively to help those, who would actually need it.
We’d already passed the point of no return. The world’s population was fast approaching ten billion people, and Mother Earth was making it abundantly clear that she could no longer sustain all of us—especially not after we’d spent the past two centuries poisoning her oceans and atmosphere with wild industrial abandon. We had made our bed, and now we were going to die in it.
He justifies that the world needs the escape from reality and hence the ONI headset is required. he doesn't care about the planet anymore. He becomes a shell of a person, stalking his girlfriend, taking down people who spite and troll him and spending an unhealthy amount of time in the OASIS.
To quote Sarah Connor: ‘You’re all dead already.’ You, your friends, your customers—all of you. You poisoned your own planet, destroyed its climate, defiled its ecosystem, and killed off all of its biodiversity.
We are fucked anyway so why should we be worried about the planet. Let's just batten down our hatches and play games till eternity. If you are rich enough, you can buy your way off this planet on a spaceship. Oh yes, there is an actual spaceship being built by Wade and his friends in the book as a backup escape plan from the planet.
Yes, this is the same spaceship that DPC Wade and friends float off in space. Moral of the story: "This planet is fucked and the only way off is to get the fuck off this planet."
First book I finished reading in 2021 and I regret it being so. This such a bad novel. It seems like a rough draft of a rough draft. The Easter egg hunt worked well with the first book which was loaded with 80s references. This book drowns in it. 7 long quests that I couldn't wait to finish to reach the end. A little curiosity pulled me to the end, but I left totally disappointed.
The entire OASIS is like one giant graveyard, haunted by the undead pop-culture icons of a bygone era. A crazy old man’s shrine to a bunch of pointless crap.
The above quote by Anorak, rightly fits this book and Cline's mentality. Instead of delving deeper into the consequences of using the OASIS in a broken world and creating a beacon of hope, Cline opts in for a cynical view and just brings in a new technology. Without exploring the provocative repercussions of such tech, he just uses it as a tool to move the plot. This book is an unnecessary sequel and a shallow one at that. It just overdoes everything and feels worse than the side quests in a Ubisoft game. Actually, the side quests in those games atleast have a better story even though they are drawn out, but not in this case.
I would highly recommend you stay away from this book.