Ready Player Two is out now.

Prepared Participant Two is out now.
Picture: Ballantine Books

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Sequels are hard; any fan of popular culture can let you know that. A sequel can’t simply match the success of the unique, it has to increase on and deepen it. Recontextualize the entire thing in new and exciting ways. Only a few sequels obtain this and nobody would know that higher than followers of, or characters in, Ernest Cline’s Prepared Participant One. Sadly for each of these events, regardless of a greater than valiant effort, Ready Player Two will be a part of the checklist of sequels that didn’t fairly attain the subsequent degree.

Selecting up where the first book left off, Prepared Participant Two tells one other sprawling digital journey in a digital actuality world crammed with oodles of popular culture ardour. In a shift from the primary story although, the sequel intentionally makes an attempt to dial again the references, at the very least a bit bit, to discover profound themes and concepts. Usually it’s profitable, most occasions it’s not, and the tip result’s a wildly uneven e-book that may be actually enjoyable however is generally irritating.

Illustration for article titled iReady Player Two /iAttempts, But Fails, to Reach the Next Level

Prepared Participant Two as soon as once more follows Wade Watts, aka Parzival, an excellent nerd who, after the occasions of the primary e-book, is probably the most wealthy, well-known, and highly effective individuals on the planet. Alongside together with his pals Artemis, Aech, and Shoto, he now runs the OASIS, an infinite digital actuality the place most of tradition takes place. It seems, although, the OASIS was just the start—its creator, James Halliday, left the winner of his contest (Wade) a brand new expertise referred to as OASIS Neural Interface. Abbreviated to ONI, this new tech makes a harmful connection to customers’ minds that offers them the power to bodily expertise the OASIS. In different phrases, although you’re sitting at residence with a headset on, all the things feels, smells, tastes, and sounds utterly actual as a result of it’s tapping straight into your mind. Customers may file recollections, share them, and relive them with others. Anybody might be anybody and expertise something they need to expertise, full cease. It’s an entire new chapter of human evolution and Halliday wasn’t certain if the world was prepared for it. Wade, Aech, and Shoto are although, in order that they unexpectedly launch ONI, as soon as once more altering all the world.

For the primary eight chapters, Cline explores that story. How a clueless fanboy doesn’t fairly perceive the facility he has, how fame and fortune have modified him, and the way releasing ONI expertise has unfathomable outcomes (together with his once-girlfriend Artemis dumping him). Wade and his pals debate the deserves and affect of ONI all whereas Wade wallows in self-doubt and self-pity. As that is occurring, Prepared Participant Two feels filled with promise, like a brand new evolution on this story, a grander and extra complicated sequel. It appears as if Cline goes to look at the hazards of expertise, invasion of privateness, the issues with a purely popular culture world, all of it. Better of all, he even hints on the conclusion {that a} teenage child who knew recreate WarGames may not be the most effective individual to regulate all the things on the planet. All of that is pretty much as good as Prepared Participant Two will get.

Funnily sufficient, it’s additionally this part of the e-book that’s probably the most just like the earlier novel when it comes to wanton popular culture jargon. Armed with limitless sources, characters create mansions that appear like The Lord of the RingsRivendell, purchase likeness rights to make precise mashup films of Again to the Future and Ghostbusters, and rent Sean from Good Will Searching as a therapist. It’s a bit unbearable however it’s wonderful for the reason that story at this level has such potential.

That every one will get pushed apart although when a brand new foe emerges and threatens to kill each single individual within the OASIS except Wade and his pals full a brand new quest: a quest for the seven horcruxes shards. That’s when Prepared Participant Two flips solely on its head.

This scene, from the end of the Ready Player One movie, takes on new context in Ready Player Two.

This scene, from the tip of the Prepared Participant One film, takes on new context in Prepared Participant Two.
Picture: Warner Bros.

That is additionally the purpose within the overview the place I make this stunning admission. I actually appreciated Prepared Participant One. The primary time I learn it, I completed it in a single sitting. I devoured it. I even went again and read it again before the movie came out (I appreciated the film much less however didn’t hate it). Although I actually agree with the very valid criticisms people have of the book, I’m simply an enormous sucker for popular culture references. The concept of an epic Willy Wonka journey on this nostalgic world received me over, flaws and all. That’s necessary to confess as a result of “a fanboy knows a hater” and I’m far more the previous than the latter.

So when Prepared Participant Two goes from the ramifications of the primary e-book to a model new quest with even better stakes and extra puzzles to resolve, I immediately perked up. I quickly realized, although, that Prepared Participant Two’s quest merely isn’t that fascinating. The stakes are greater, there are extra artifacts to seek out, and but that thrill of the chase is gone.

Cline well ventures into different areas of tradition with these quests (music, romantic comedies, feminism), however all the things about them is massively imbalanced. A number of are brief, candy, and impactful. Others are completely random and really feel misplaced. Some are means too lengthy and overly descriptive. They usually all lead as much as a closing quest that blips by so shortly you virtually can’t consider it’s over. This part of the e-book is much less brazen with its popular culture references—oh certain, they’re nonetheless there, however are principally in service of telling a single, cohesive story, which is most welcome. Oddly, although, it seems the extra time Cline spends diving right into a single sliver of popular culture relatively than a number of areas, the extra repetitive and irritating it might probably really feel.

The truth that the e-book has virtually two halves, and every of these two halves have pluses and minuses, speaks to a few of its bigger points as effectively. Cline could also be 48 years previous however he’s writing a few teenage nerd within the voice of a teenage nerd, and this teenage nerd character, like Cline, appears to be studying on the fly. At occasions, the story feels just like the meandering work of somebody from the previous attempting to navigate this new, culturally enlightened panorama we stay in; whereas the e-book does stuff like deliver in extra highly effective ladies and discuss brazenly and inclusively about sexuality, it doesn’t at all times work. Generally it’s partaking and fascinating, different occasions it’s short-sighted and awkward. It feels effectively-intentioned, however all the factor reads like Cline is trying to psychoanalyze two halves of himself by means of dichotomies within the story. There’s the nerdy fanboy from e-book one, nonetheless completely obsessive about each little element. Then there’s the older, richer, wiser, and extra influential individual in e-book two, who’s attempting to be a bit extra introspective and respectful however hasn’t fairly figured all of it out but.

Ernest Cline’s author photo is as nerdy as they come.

Ernest Cline’s creator picture is as nerdy as they arrive.
Picture: Dan Winters/Ballantine Books

You additionally see this within the e-book’s important quest for the seven shards. The shards are half of a bigger story relating to Kira Underwood, a personality from the primary e-book who is generally used as a tool to clarify the rivalry between the 2 founders of the Oasis, Halliday and Og. That Kira is now the main focus of all the e-book appears like Cline’s acknowledgment that his ladies characters want extra depth. However the methods wherein he achieves this for her are so extremely heinous and merciless, you virtually want it wasn’t the case. So once more, you may have the creator studying, however fumbling the try.

This occurs with a few of the different new characters too (of which there are usually not as many as you’d anticipate in a sequel). Early in Prepared Participant Two, Cline introduces L0hengrin, a YouTube star and fellow nerd that helps Wade and his pals. Lo, as they name her, is a trans lady, and her storyline included some terribly clumsy makes an attempt to clarify Wade’s fascination along with her and humanity’s new outlook on such issues. Sadly, the e-book messes it up additional, finally utilizing Lo and her pals as mere plot gadgets, by no means exploring something about her character, and making the point out of her gender really feel like nothing greater than window dressing.

This goes on and on and on. Good issues flip to dangerous issues, dangerous issues flip to good issues. The entire e-book resembles a curler coaster of ethical ambiguity, by no means fairly certain which option to flip subsequent. By the tip (which is bonkers and one thing we’ll talk about at a later date), it’s unclear if Cline has any thought what message he desires to convey. He appears to current each one possible.

Regardless of all of that, there are a couple of chapters and moments the place Cline actually hits his stride, locations he finds the right mixture of popular culture nostalgia to make you smile and offer you goosebumps. Or he’ll concoct probably the most ludicrous notion solely potential in his fictional world that it’ll make you actually want it existed. It doesn’t occur typically however the occasions it does, so lots of the flaws in Prepared Participant Two soften away, even for a second, and also you’re simply comfortable to be there.

The cover of Ready Player Two.

The duvet of Prepared Participant Two.
Picture: Ballantine

Nonetheless, I wished extra from Prepared Participant Two. After beginning with loads of promise, most of what’s fascinating about it slowly fizzles away. The journey might be nice, however in borrowing the broad construction from the primary e-book, it loses a few of its pleasure. Concepts created by the ONI expertise present Cline’s creativeness is spectacular, however a few of that will get misplaced in extreme exposition. Whereas the e-book is stuffed with complicated points with an eye fixed on attempting to sort out them with simply the appropriate contact, more often than not, it merely doesn’t.

Followers of the primary e-book will definitely discover issues to love about Prepared Participant Two. I do know I did. However, like me, they’ll additionally discover tons to not like and never within the methods “haters” may anticipate. Sequels are presupposed to be greater and higher and whereas Prepared Participant Two is actually greater, it’s removed from higher. It’s {a partially} entertaining, however extra typically disappointing, sequel.

We’ll have far more on Prepared Participant Two within the coming days. It’s in shops now.

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Germain Lussier on io9, shared by Kaitlyn Jakola to Gizmodo