A quick spoiler-free word before I begin. I’m likely the only Blaine you know. It is not a common name. So as the unofficial gatekeeper of the Blaine Hall of Fame, I am here to tell you that the Hall only has four members: Blane from the movie Pretty in Pink
, Blaine from Glee
, Blain from the movie Predator
(the self-described “goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus” who “ain’t got time to bleed,” two lines I promise you I used a lot
in my teens), and Blaine the Australian surfer who was Barbie’s boyfriend for about two years after she and Ken broke up in 2004. Yes, Blaine’s World is so small that all four of our heroes are fictional, two don’t spell their names correctly, and one is made of plastic. So I don’t know why Mr. Cline decided that he needed to take some shots at 25% of the Titans of Blaineness, but know that I am absolutely, 100%, NOT HERE FOR IT.
Ok. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest .... ?
I’ve loved Ready Player One
since the first time I read it. You can read my thoughts on why that book worked so well here
. Ready Player Two
picks up just after the events of Ready Player One
. Wade learns that James Halliday had also developed a neural interface for the OASIS, which would allow users not only more immersive experiences in the system, but would actually allow users to record real-life experiences and digitize them for others to playback and experience from a first-person perspective. The introduction of this new technology leads to a second, somewhat different contest—collecting the seven shards of the Siren’s soul—that forms the majority of the story here.
There are some things I liked about this story. The pop culture references are much broader, and not so focused on the 1980s this time. They are also a bit more about music and movies (the set pieces involving Prince and Pretty in Pink
were my favorites), and less about video games. Thematically, the novel deals much more with Halliday the man, and his relationships with Ogden and Kira. While it again explores humanity escaping online from its real-world problems, it also talks about the fallibility of our heroes, the destructiveness of our social media, how tech companies misuse its customers’ data, and even Wade’s struggles in dealing with haters who attack him now that he vaulted from obscurity to worldwide fame (I could not help but wonder if that last part grew from Mr. Cline’s own dealings with fame). And on an optimistic note, the book also shows how technology can be a great tool for creating empathy for others.
However, there were some significant problems with the story. First, Wade is pretty unhappy through much of the book. I’m not saying there aren’t valid reasons, I’m just saying that his narration has the depressing feel of angsty Harry from the beginning of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
. And perhaps because I’ve lived through all the same pop culture touchstones as Mr. Cline, I found the plot turns largely predictable.
But the biggest problem with this novel is probably the pacing. In Ready Player One
, the clues to the keys and gates were difficult, often taking months or years to solve. During those long interludes between puzzle-solving, the book introduced characters, did its amazing world building (real-world and OASIS), and set up and resolved some conflicts. This alternation created balance, and made the solving of each puzzle feel like an event. Here, after the first shard is found, the plot uses a ticking clock scenario. Because there would be no time to research or struggle, every other clue is instantly understood by at least one character (and sometimes even by the reader). They read the clue, and someone immediately knows know where to go, what to do, and how to do it. As a result, well over half the book is just scene after scene of read clue, go to new location, explanation of what to do, watch them do it, get the next clue and repeat. It’s a format that stifles the humor, magic, and sense of wonder that grew within the breathing space provided in the first book. It also leaves little room for any character development beyond Wade, and frankly not much for him either.
I went on record that Ready Player One
did not need a sequel, and I absolutely stand by that. I also said I was nervous about a sequel ruining the magic of that standalone hit. I wouldn’t go that far. Ready Player Two
may lack the magic of its predecessor, but it doesn’t do anything to tarnish it. On the scale of sequels, it’s not The Empire Strikes Back
or The Godfather Part II
, but it’s not The Hangover Part II
or Caddyshack II
either. This book is more like Ghostbusters 2
, not as good as the original, but it has its moments.