Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Hi everyone, it’s me – Mr. Librarian! Cheryl allowed me to write about one of my favorite books of 2020. What should you know about me? I’m a nerd, and the books I mostly read are biographies, histories, and occasionally sci-fi books. Most of the time Cheryl teases me about my book selection being super boring, but you know what I’m okay with my book selection. Maybe if you like this, Cheryl will let me guest post occasionally!

Okay, so let’s talk about Ready Player Two, Ernest Cline’s follow up to his 2011 debut novel Ready Player One. ***If you haven’t read Ready Player One, be prepared for some spoilers. Also, what’s wrong with you? And if you’re going to tell me that you watched the movie – 1) eww, gross and 2) seriously, I watched that movie and while I love Steven Spielberg movies that’s 90 minutes of my life that I can never get back…*** The gang is back a few years after the events of Ready Player One and they are now in charge of the OASIS. Now they basically oversee the internet and arguably how most people interact with each other, but they encounter a new challenge. James Halliday has left an additional legacy, the ONI (Oasis Neural Interface) that allows users to experience the OASIS with all five senses. Suffice it to say that this great invention is a new Easter Egg, and <surprise, surprise> things unravel and society and humanity need saving. I’ll resist any spoilers here, but – most importantly – the love affair with 80s and 90s pop culture continues.

When I was talking to my brother-in-law who also loved Ready Player One, I was able to sum up my impression of the book in one sentence – “Where RP1 was about fun and adventure, RP2 asks some more serious philosophical questions.” Even though I can’t imagine Cline wrote this after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, its timeliness for 2020 is eerily prescient. In a year (and a time) of loneliness, there are plenty of existential questions that come up – but here’s the big question that I’ve been grappling with: Is a hug really a hug if you can see it, feel it, and smell it but it doesn’t happen in real life?

Maybe in 2020 some of these ONI experiences would be nice. We could connect with our friends and family, have the sense of being together without the risk of spreading or getting COVID-19. We could travel to far away places and feel like we were really there. We could safely escape into a seemingly normal world, all from the safety of home. But would it be real? Are we actually creating memories or living if everything we experience is in a computer generated environment? If Cheryl and I traveled to the Great Wall of China together in the ONI, would we really experience it together? I honestly don’t know the answers, but I love that Cline got me thinking about these questions. 

If you like Ernest Cline, I’m pretty sure that you’re also a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have a feeling that Cline had Reginald Barclay on his mind when writing with this – and if he didn’t then I was certainly thinking of Lt. Broccoli (sorry, Reg) when contemplating these existential questions. Barclay escapes into the holodecks to live in a reality where he feels safe, but Counselor Troi makes him deal with the fact that those escapes leave him lonelier and less connected to the people who are actually in his life (see “Hollow Pursuits” for additional geek out reference). And again, without giving anything away are we living life when everything is virtual (see “Ship in a Bottle” for further nerdiness).

I love books that make me think, and to be honest I was expecting another fun adventure but this exceeded my expectations. Sequels are hard, especially when a debut effort is so magical.  However, Cline gives this to us in spades, but with something more. While it’s not a book about philosophy, I am grateful to explore those deeper questions and have a fun time doing it.

Ready Player One, published 2012

Ready Player Two, published 2020

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