Book Review: Ready Player One/Two
** Spoilers included **
Ready Player One might be one of my favorite books of all time just by the amount of pure enjoyment I felt while reading it. I was a teenager in the 80s, and as many others my age have referenced about the book, it seems written specifically for me.
Taking place in the near future, society is suffering from catastrophic food, energy, and environmental issues. As an escape, a game inventor named James Halliday builds a fully immersive virtual reality called the Oasis in which nearly everyone spends their day whether they are at work or play. At his death, the multi-billionaire leaves an Easter egg within the simulation that, if found, would transfer full control and ownership of the Oasis (and the billions of dollars that go with it) to whoever discovers it.
The story follows Wade Watts, a high-school aged “gunter” (or egg-hunter) who spends all his time searching for Halliday’s Easter egg. As Halliday, too, was a child of the 80s, many of the clues and puzzles directly reference 80s geek and pop culture, from Dungeons & Dragons to John Hughes movies to arena rock to Atari video games—all the things I did growing up.
Everything about the book is enjoyable. The references are nostalgic, the pacing is frantic, the tension is high, the love interest is an equal, and the villain is a real dickhead. Cline does a great job of establishing the stakes then ramping things up when Wade finds the first key of the egg hunt and his life is quickly threatened. Wade and his team, the High Five, work to solve the puzzles and defeat the corporate slimeball, Nolan Sorrento.
The integration of 80s pop culture into a frenetic treasure hunt is well done. Cline has an easy writing style that pulls the reader along. It is clear he loves the subject matter, and his enthusiasm is shown in the characters and transmitted to the reader. Ready Player One is a thrill ride that kept me grinning from ear-to-ear as I read to the final page. I was legitimately sad when the story ended as I thought Cline had wrapped things up nicely.
Ready Player Two, however, picks up right where the first book left off. As president of Gregarious Simulation Systems, the company that runs the Oasis, Wade finds a note left by Halliday for some new technology that Halliday never released. The tech scans the brain of the user, providing a life-like experience within the Oasis.
The reader learns that the version of Anorak, Halliday’s avatar, that ran the egg hunt in the first book is actually a virtual scan of Halliday himself. But as Halliday had silently loved his partner’s wife (Karen Underwood), he deleted those memories from Anorak, thus corrupting his code and turning him evil. Once a majority of users start accessing the Oasis via the new tech, Anorak takes control of the Oasis and holds everyone hostage. He forces Wade and the High Five to solve a puzzle Karen Underwood had created for the company, revealing where portions of her own brain scan are stored. Anorak hopes to unite the segments and create a completely virtual version of Karen all for himself.
Though similar to Ready Player One in that the plot is a treasure hunt, the tone in Ready Player Two is darker and the heroes less noble. Instead of being the underdog, Wade seems more arrogant and greedier, forcing the release of the new technology over the concerns of others. The puzzles of the treasure hunt are more drawn out and arduous, often dragging the pace to a crawl.
Ready Player Two subsists entirely off the popularity and success of Ready Player One, but it lacks the energy and thrill of the first book.
Ready Player Two was published in 2020, eight years after Ready Player One. Ready Player One is one of my Top Ten books of all time with a score: 88/100; Ready Player Two is an average follow-up with a score: 48/100.
To purchase Ready Player One, click here.
To purchase Ready Player Two, click here.