Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player Two” – An Un-Review

There are three-hundred and sixty four days when you might get un-birthday presents, and only one for birthday presents, you know.

–Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Few books surprised me in the last decade as Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One. I picked it up while browsing the bookshelves. I didn’t know anything about the story when I began reading and found myself enjoying the book immensely. I’ve read it a couple of times since then and find it remarkably charming.

As a person who grew up in the 80s the references made in Ready Player One were part of its charm. I understood precisely where Cline was coming from and where he was heading having played the same games, listened to the same music, and enjoyed the same films. This was a book that captured my teens very well. When the book ended I was quite happy and satisfied with it.

Cline’s next novel, Armada, was less satisfying. I reviewed Armada when it was released and while I had a pretty good time reading it I found it less satisfying than its predecessor. Armada was a video gamer’s fantasy brought to life. Aliens were real and it was up to teenage Zack Lightman to save the world. The story is nearly identical in scope to the classic 80s film The Last Starfighter. While Armada was a pleasurable read, I found the 80s pop culture references less entertaining the second time around.

Now, with Ready Player Two, I expect Cline to once more delve deeply into 80s popular culture to attempt to expand the story and universe of Ready Player One. The question is, ‘Do we really want or need it’?

I must admit I hadn’t been keeping a sharp eye out for this book and when I heard this week that it had been published my first reaction was trepidation. I thought Ready Player One was a terrific romp through the past via the crucible of the future, but I thought it ended quite well. It’s one of the things that impressed me the most. There was no ambiguous ending that made the reader go ‘oh, I’ll guess I’ll have to wait for the next book’. It reminded me very strongly of Golden Age and New Wave authors that had no expectation of having further stories published.

Given the success of Ready Player One a sequel is not unexpected. What would be unexpected is if Cline took the opportunity to forego his previous modus and do something truly surprising with the story. All early indicators say this is not the case. I don’t think I’m really interested in reading Ready Player One over again but with a few new references and some light chrome buffing.

The question we, as readers, have to ask is ‘how many times can this story be told and told well?’ I fear the number would be frightfully low. There are series that go on for a very long time, some more successfully than others. Based on my reaction to Armada I think the well of 80s pop culture is too shallow to sustain repeated draughts.

This isn’t to say I won’t ever read Ready Player Two, I just want to wait for the initial furore to fade so I can give this sequel an equal chance to the one I gave Ready Player One. I would be very pleased to be proven wrong and that my worries are for nothing. I had a good time in the 80s, both in real life and returning in the pages of an unexpected purchase.

But as the saying goes, nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player Two

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