Ready Player Two (2020) – Ernest Cline

Title:Ready Player Two
Author:Ernest Cline
Publisher:Penguin Random House
Date published:2020
Star rating:⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Penguin Random House South Africa kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I would just like to say that writing a review for the sequel of a beloved novel is just as hard as reading a sequel, and not continuously comparing it to the original. I guess that will always be the eternal challenge with writing sequels. Especially if writing that sequel was never in the cards, and if that sequel has a lot of catching up to do in the beginning to remind the readers just exactly what happened in the first book. This is most definitely the case and the challenge for Ernest Cline and Ready Player Two.

The novel takes us straight back to mere hours after Wade Watts, our hero, won James Halliday’s Easter Egg challenge in Ready Player One. Quite by accident, he discovers another Easter egg hidden by his idol – the man who, along with his best friend and business partner Ogden Morrow created the OASIS, an immersive and interactive digital world that people all over the world had been logging into for years. The Easter egg reveals a whole new challenge, and adventure – one in which Halliday’s heir (Watts) must find the mysterious Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul.

If Wade (or Parzival as he’s known in the OASIS) had hoped that it would be a simple matter of getting the ‘band back together’ and going on another nostalgic quest with his friends, he is quickly disappointed when finding the first clue proves almost impossible, and after years of fruitless searching, his friends are no longer as close as they once were. The co-owners of GSS (Gregarious Simulation Systems) have all moved on, are living their own lives, and no one is searching for Halliday’s long-forgotten clue.

In the years that have passed a new technology called ONI (Oasis Neutral Interface) is being used all over the world. Far greater than the old headsets and visors that people used to access the OASIS, the ONI makes the experience of logging in far more real than ever before – and people are hooked, including Wade, Aech, and Shoto. The only problem? You are only able to safely use the ONI for 12 hours… Artemis has chosen to abstain from the software, and even Ogden Morrow refuses to partake. Accessing the digital world is dividing the owners of GSS, and making their now semi-regular and mandatory meetings somewhat tense.

“The device you now hold in your hands is an OASIS Neutral Interface or ONI…It is the world’s first fully functioning non-invasive brain-computer interface. It allows an OASIS user to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel their avatar’s virtual environment, via signals transmitted directly into their cerebral cortex. The headset’s sensor array also monitors and interprets its wearer’s brain activity, allowing them to control their OASIS avatar just as they do their physical body – simply by thinking about it.”

Then a Halliday superfan named a Lohengrin finds the first clue and contacts Parzival with the exciting news. Before our hero is able to blink and find the next one, Halliday’s villainous avatar Anorak has returned to the OASIS and has used GSS’s own technology against them. With every current ONI user being held hostage, Parzival and the High Five are forced to finish Halliday’s last quest in record time before their time literally runs out.

With Ogden Morrow kidnapped, the High Five are suddenly alone, with less than 12 hours to unravel another of James Halliday’s obsession-fuelled quests. To win this they are going to have to put aside their issues with one another, and even rope in a new group of kids who are Halliday obsessed and prepared to search the OASIS and all its wonders.

And so dear reader, we are taken on another nostalgic trip through virtual worlds, the worlds we loved and cherished in the first book, and so many more. Cline takes us back to a world that celebrates every single John Hughes movie and iconic character ever created. One of the worlds will worship a famous musician, and in another world Tolkien is king. Parzival and his friends will have to play more vintage video games, and visit old haunts that James Halliday loved as a kid, and even Parzival will return to a world he spent a lot of time in as a kid whilst growing up in the Stacks. The scene is set, and the game is on.

Cline’s world-building is still as remarkable as it was in Ready Player One and his knack for making the ’80s the most nostalgia-inducing era is still evident in Ready Player Two. That being said the novel does struggle a bit in the first few chapters with its clunky introduction. Thankfully for the most ardent fans of the OASIS, the novel redeems itself with a host of new and lovable characters, heart-racing challenges, and quests that are arguably even more thrilling than those our heroes experienced in the first book.

Wade Watts is not the most likable hero, and the question of ethics related to technology and our reliance on it are key themes in this sequel, but much like the novel itself, our protagonist will also find redemption, and will ultimately remind the reader that relationships in real life will always trump our place in the virtual world.

My review for Ready Player One:

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