3.5 out of 5 stars
Get through the beginning, there’s a decent sequel here.
Ready Player One is among my top 10 all-time favorite books. Probably top five. So when I heard Ernest Cline was writing a sequel, I got… scared.
Why? Because RP1 is perfect. It’s modern vintage, an indelible slice of nostalgia impossible to capture twice. And because Spielberg’s movie version is a travesty. It’s the worst movie ever made. Overstating? Maybe. It’s certainly the worst book adaptation ever put to screen. He reached into something I love, grabbed the heart, then ripped it out and ate it like Kali in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Which is a great movie! (Though Last Crusade is the best.) Another reminder of what Spielberg can do – and all he failed to do with RP1.
Back to this book. It finds Wade Watts, our victorious hero Parzival, oh-so-lonely on the estate he inherited by winning Oasis creator James Halliday’s Easter egg hunt. He’s whining about doing nothing, while his prize-sharing cohorts Aech, Shoto, and Art3mis are out living their insanely rich, famous, and influential lives. Cline takes great pains to list the altruistic things each character has done – it’s tiresome – but it hasn’t saved the world. And there’s worse to come, maybe, when Wade finds another Halliday surprise – one only he can open. When he does, it unleashes the ONI, or Oasis Neural Interface. Plug the Oasis straight into your brain, and think/feel/touch/taste/smell like you’re really there.
And you think people are addicted to their phones.
Of course, there’s a twist: Another egg hunt! It sends Wade and Co. back to the 80s, racing through the Oasis-as-time-capsule, this time dissecting the life of Kira Morrow, late wife of Oasis co-creator Ogden Morrow. Halliday was nuts about her, literally.
Another hunt? Gunters rejoice-ish. The story hits a laundry list of 80s milestones, this time way more obvious and well-known than the hunt of RP1. It leans toward what Spielberg did – which I hated: it lowest common denominator-s the era for people who don’t really remember it. John Hughes World? Adorable, but almost too accessible. Prince Planet? Enlightening, but redundant. Even the video game planet based on SEGA’s Ninja Princess goes step by step through sixteen levels of play. Perfect for those who’ve never actually played an old video game. Cline is no longer reminding people of a bygone era, it’s introducing one to an audience that never lived it. You’re not so much rewarded for getting the references as you’re bored by having them re-explained.
Still, I did enjoy listening to the RP2 audiobook. Narrated by nerd-hero Wil Wheaton (who over annunciates), once the hunt gets rolling, it is fun. It is clever. It doesn’t meet RP1’s originality, but this hunt has a dark twist: A combination of ghost in the machine AI-style ethics concerns and the idea of better living through technology. RP2 pays lip service to some serious moral questions, mostly by rehashing Wade and Art3mis’ breakup drama over similar concerns. The book doesn’t slow down enough to chew on this food for thought, though. You’ll have to ask yourself about the role of online interaction in the lives of individuals and the world. And if Andie should have ended up with Duckie instead of Blake. Or if, in another decade, she would have strutted solo out of that prom like the girl power hero she was meant to be.