By Robert Vincent
Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player Two” is a terrible follow-up novel and an altogether terrible experience. It is so bad that it disservices the original, an already bad book. Everything that it can do wrong, it does.
The original novel was about an Easter egg hunt inside an online virtual reality game. Here, it recycles this plot, except with a few key differences.
All of the users can now link their minds directly up to the virtual world with a headset called the ONI, and a malevolent artificial intelligence has trapped everyone inside it, holding them hostage until someone completes his game.
Right at the start, it leaves a bad first impression. The beginning of the book simultaneously delivers information at both a breakneck pace and in an excruciatingly slow manner.
By the time you reach page 25,
it has already covered the inciting incident, where the main character— Wade Watts, otherwise known as Parzival—opens the Pandora’s box of the story and releases the ONI to the public. Years then flash by within ten pages.
The slowness of it comes in the way that it tells these events. Only once the page count reaches page 75 do we get a hint of dialogue. Until then, the narrative consists almost entirely of unbroken info dumps, conveying through explanation, rather than storytelling.
During these info dumps, it also gives us the events of the story in anachronic order. Instead of feeling intelligent, it reads like the author (rather than Wade) is rambling about whatever incident pops into his mind. It feels very disorganized.
After it reaches the part where it finally introduces dialogue, it still splices in more bits of info dumping between the conversations. This would not be an issue in a normal book, but here it reminds us of the unrelenting walls of text at the start (and I was just begging for that not to start up again).
Once the plot gets rolling, there is a semblance of a quick pace, but it too often grinds to a halt for several paragraphs to talk about pop culture. These bits are like Wikipedia articles written by middle schoolers. This isn’t a new problem, since the original also had it.
In the first book, the Easter egg hunt is spliced up by events unrelated to it, such as a dance party that the characters attend. There is no breathing room here. This one feels like the author moving through a checklist, with no scenes besides the pop culture related challenges, from the point they begin up until the climax.
Everything about this hunt, supposedly the main draw to the book,
is tedious. It draws us away from the (slightly) more interesting plot points, like the rogue AI.
Special note needs to be given to how unsurprising the plot twists are. The items that the heroes are collect- ing, the shards that make up the “Si- ren’s Soul,” are obviously a saved copy of a deceased character’s mind. But the characters do not realize this for quite a while. The reader realizes this, however, long before the reveal. Instead of making the reader feel smart, it paints the characters as idiots.
The plot also has an embarrassing number of inconsistencies, in its relation to the original and its own plot. Cline forgot that Shoto, a Japanese character, speaks English. In this, he speaks through a translator software.
The characterization is also illogical. Samantha, who was opposed to manufacturing the ONI headsets, goes along with a different technological innovation at the end that could have even worse consequences if misused.
The whole concept of the ONI headsets should never have passed safety testing. And after the huge catastrophe with them locking the users into the game, billions of people still use them.
Wade is just an unpleasant character. I love unsavory characters if they have depth, but Wade is shallow, and the narrative bends over backward to convince us he actually is likable. The rest of the characters have about as much depth as him.
To top it all off, at the start of the climax, Wade unveils a deus ex machina that no prior event hinted at. I felt insulted.
The final fight is one of the few saving graces of the story. It is efficient— it isn’t overly technical, and it also isn’t too sparse with its description. I could envision it very well, and I enjoyed it much more than the rest of the novel.
After the fight is finished and the evil AI is destroyed, it gets “philosophical” for its denouement. It delves into topics such as immortality through technology, the singularity, and the continuation of humanity into the far future. All this reads like the musings of a freshman IT student taking a philosophy elective, and ends the novel on a fittingly bad note.
The dialogue throughout ranges from dysfunctional to downright septic. It includes such poignant bits like “Tell me we don’t have some epic shit going down right here,” and “Anorak
just went Sonic.exe on us!”
I don’t think Cline has ever actually played an online game with other people. This is not how online friends talk to each other. This is how a corporate think tank imagines how gamers speak.
Whenever a villain appears, the dialogue becomes the worst type of cheesy. They all have the same moustache-twirling energy that Saturday morning cartoon villains have, despite millions of lives being at risk.
A great example of this is when the characters are on their way to collect another shard. The AI’s henchman, the main villain from the previous book, teleports to the heroes and taunts them. This came out of no- where and could have been done without, or at least could have been portrayed more seriously.
I still got through the novel pretty
quickly, despite my unenjoyment. It is a page-turner only because it sucks you in with its stupidity. You’re left wondering just what dumb plot twist, character decision, or storytelling mistake will happen on the next page, and so you read on to find out.
Ready Player One was released during the peak of the geek chic era in 2011, the same year as memetic hits like “Portal 2” and “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.” The unbridled affection these books have toward geek culture does not work in the current year. Nowadays, geek culture has a degree of cynicism to it, and dropping references like these books do is seen as “cringe.”
At the very least, a line editor looked at the manuscript at some point. The book does not have any major grammatical issues, besides an occasional misplaced comma.
However, no developmental editing has occurred in regard to the plot. Passive voice also plagues the narration, even during action scenes. It is apparent that Cline had complete oversight on what went into the final product.
I don’t think that even Steven Spielberg can salvage this novel, if it were to get a film adaptation from him like its predecessor. The plot is so fundamentally broken that large swathes would need to be removed. He made something entertaining out of the original, but this is much, much worse.
This book would have never been published if the first hadn’t been a runaway success. If there is a way you can do something wrong when telling a story, this book has probably done it.