Ready Player Two brings out the dangers lurking in the whole schema of its predecessor ... Is the Ready Player universe just a giant nostalgia trip through a graveyard of pop-culture icons? No, because Mr. Cline is highlighting the dangers, not falling for them ... In the game of life (says Mr. Cline, finally) you must always reach for the next and unexpected level. His books offer a great mix of exciting fantasy and threatening fact.
Cline's writing style, with frenetic pop culture references of the video games, movies, tech, TV shows and music of yesteryear, remains the same ... It feels more like geekery gatekeeping than a showing off of knowledge and attempts to display diversity in the race and gender identity of the characters rings hollow, almost offensive ... Most glaring is Watts is rather difficult to root for the second time around ... But if this is a redemption story for Watts, it's incomplete and unearned. Convenient plot twists are convenient at every step of their quest, and even when Watts must pay for his mistakes, it's as if the fast-forward button keeps getting pressed and we skip over the hard bits ... If Ready Player Two were a video game, it would be a side-scroller pushing you forward in the timed action and never really allowing you to explore the map ... 2/4 stars.
Like its predecessor, it’s a tedious slog through arcane pop culture references – The Silmarillion, the music of Prince, the movies of John Hughes – sprinkled in so lazily that you could replace them with your own favourites, or swap them right out and be left with a much shorter, and probably better book ... Cline is back with a sequel that has all the same flaws as the original, but few of its plus sides ... [It] reads as if someone has introduced the GPT-3 text-generation algorithm to a copy of VH1’s I Love the 1980s (in fact, someone actually used an AI to try and predict the plot, with eerily effective results) ... Now there’s nothing particularly wrong with that – people who love those things will probably enjoy this book – but it is the same shtick as the original. And it’s a shame, because underneath all the movie quotes and reenacted scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there are some interesting ideas in Ready Player Two about human-machine interfaces, virtual reality, and the ethics of interstellar travel.
As befits a book whose sole purpose is to borrow more successful stories and make them worse in every way, Ready Player Two now plunders its own precursor, too ... our protagonist is now a bored, vindictive tech billionaire who has learned nothing from his previous adventure ... From the perspective of anyone but Wade, Ready Player Two is a horror story that thinks it is a fantasy, narrated by a monster who thinks he is the hero ... Despite the novel’s patina of self-awareness, Wade will never be aware of how terrible he is or change in any way that matters. Instead, like a true modern villain, he will simply gaslight you with performative feints at regret and solidarity that ultimately trail off into nothing as he doubles down. You may then be tempted to think that this is intentional, some sort of knowing, ironic commentary on the failures of the previous book or the very concept of 'wokeness.' It is not. If Cline had any meaningful awareness of his protagonist’s dramatic heel turn, it might have made for a far more interesting read. He does not ... If there is anything relevant to praise about Ready Player Two, it is how Cline inadvertently nails the inner monologue of entitled, out-of-touch tech moguls, particularly their limited understanding of how human beings actually work, their belief that deep, systematic problems have simple technological solutions, and their conviction that despite all evidence to the contrary, they are a still a hero whose haters would stop them from changing the world for the better. The book’s ostensibly happy ending feels more like a grim twist in a rejected Black Mirror episode where the characters force their faces into strained, rictus grins while eerie strings play over the credits ... It feels almost redundant to say that the rest of the plot feels like a Wikipedia list of ’80s media loosely assembled into a story; that is the point of Ernest Cline’s books ... There are no pleasures to be had here, only a reminder of things that once produced pleasure ... Nothing about what Ready Player Two serves up is satisfying, in the same way that reading a shopping list isn’t as satisfying as eating a meal. You will never eat the meal. There is no meal. As with its predecessor, Ready Player Two will simply come to your table, tell you the names of delicious dishes cooked by other chefs, recite the ingredients they used, and then shake your hand and thank you for coming. This time, you will leave even hungrier, emptier, and poorer for the experience.
Ready Player Two reads like a fusion between a Wikipedia page and a video game walk-through: It makes copious references but absolutely ensures readers get the joke by having characters share the source of a quote while also making it clear that it’s shameful to not already know this. The tension between self-awareness and self-indulgence runs throughout the sequel, as Cline makes it clear he’s read plenty of the criticism leveled at his first novel and clumsily tries to address it ... Ready Player One hasn’t aged well and Cline’s star was tarnished even further by his abysmal second novel, Armada. It’s easy to imagine that Cline hopes that he, too, can be redeemed if he apologizes just a bit but mostly does the same things that so many people loved almost a decade ago. He’s still living in the past, and unlike Wade, he can’t save the world through the power of nostalgia.
It doesn’t take long for Ernest Cline’s Ready Player Two to reunite gunter-turned-billionaire Wade Owen Watts with a vintage video game that holds a clue to a virtual scavenger hunt that will forever change the future of the digital, escapist OASIS. But after winning this particular game, Parzival (Wade’s OASIS alter ego) finds that he automatically starts over. Because of an extra life, he is given the option of playing through the game again, even though there are no surprises, simply to rack up extra points and because he can. Reading Ready Player Two feels a lot like that ... Unlike the OASIS, the world of these books remains static and unchanging. Rather than extend that extra life through another run-through of the same game, Wade wisely lets it expire and takes his win. If only Cline had done the same.
...there are plenty of 1980s pop culture references including a hilarious visit to the films of John Hughes ... Cline’s fans will enjoy revisiting old friends and meeting new ones as they go on a whirlwind trip through a fantastic new virtual quest to save the world.