As a self-proclaimed nostalgic nerd, I couldn’t do without reading Ernest Cline’s books, even though it took a while for me to know they were a thing. In fact, I read the first one a few months before the second one came out, and I promised to myself that I wasn’t going to sleep on the second one as much as I slept on the first.
To be honest, I hadn’t read or heard any good review about it and this scared me a bit, but I had to see it for myself. So, a few weeks back, I took the matter into my own hands and bought the ebook.
I suspect I’m going to ramble a lot about it, so I’ll say it right away and with no remorse: I didn’t like the book. I already had mixed feelings about the first one, but at least it had managed to carry me away with nostalgia and spot-on quotes from movies and games, because they meshed so well with the story. There already were a few things that didn’t convince me, from the token minorities to all the other characters being used as “tools” for Wade to shine, but the story was good and original enough to not stress too much on its flaws.
But the second one was impossible to forgive, no matter how hard I tried. I think one of the main reasons why I didn’t like it is the same reason why I can’t watch The Big Bang Theory anymore: the protagonist(s) is (are) a very accurate depiction of the worst kind of geek you can imagine. The one that takes everything personally, that is a creep towards other people and gets angry when they can’t have it their way. The kind of person that feels so much smarter than the average that they feel unfit for the real world, and end up thinking that detaching themselves from it even more is a good idea. Or that making a backup of themselves and sending it in outer space so that they can somehow live forever is a cool thing to do. (I mean, didn’t you watch The Good Place?)
And it stings that this bad depiction of a geek was made by someone who I guess self-identifies as a geek himself, because it means the author is ok, or worse, is proud of this stereotypical and negative depiction of nerds. The speech from JD Halliday at the end of the first book was about the importance of living the “real” life, but it all goes in the thrash in the first ten pages of the second book. It made me wonder whether the ending of Ready Player One and the beginning of Ready Player Two was written by the same person, to be honest.
Wade is a worse person than the one he was in book one, because now that he has the means to live a good life and do something good for the world, he still decides to keep up his life as it was in the stacks, but with a lot more power and money. When people calls him out on his mistakes, he just doubles down and punishes them within the game instead of making a step back and apologize. And don’t get me started on how he uses to spy on the other OASIS users and to sneak upon them thanks to the Robes of Anorak, the OASIS version of the invisibility cloak.
At this point I already had bad feelings about it, but I kept on reading. After all, there was still room for redemption (A LOT of room for redemption), and for a while I hoped that was going to be the theme of the book, especially when it turned out that the big baddy of the day was going to be Anorak, Halliday’s evil digital avatar. But as the story went on, it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen.
Wade was literally facing the worst part of himself in Anorak, but just chose not to see it. And I get that maybe there’s no time for introspection and self-analysis when you only have twelve hours to save the world, but the long-awaited redemption doesn’t happen, not even when the quest is over. Even worse, it is Art3mis that ends up apologizing to him. Because of course he wins her back without effort. The geeks want to read that they are entitled to get the girl thanks to their knowledge of 80’s-related trivia, no need to be decent human beings.
If Ready Player One was saved by the quest, Ready Player Two is hopeless. Unfortunately, the quest for the Siren’s soul is just a shallow copy of the quest for the Easter Eggs, and the only purpose it serves is to highlight even more how Aech, Art3mis and Shoto are there only to be used by Wade. At times, I had the feeling that Ernest Cline made Wade more clueless in this second quest only to justify the presence of the other members of the High Five. If possible, this book is even more centered around Wade than Ready Player One was.
I know it’s a very rare event for me to be so negative about a piece of media, and that I tried my best to find something good even when there was very little to find, but this time I don’t even want to try. It stings too much on a personal level. I am a woman and I have a degree in STEM, so I guess I’ve seen a lot of variation on the concept of nerd during my career. Some of them are good or at least harmless (and I’m a nerd itoo, no point in denying it), but many others are mean and self-entitled and don’t need to be glorified the way Cline is doing in his book.