Ready Player Two

by Ernest Cline

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Last Updated on February 2, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 931

Ready Player Two is a speculative fiction novel written by Ernest Cline. Published in 2020, it's the sequel to 2011's best-selling Ready Player One.

The series takes place in the United States, in a near future where resources are scarce and the regular world is increasingly unsafe for its inhabitants. Most life is lived in the OASIS, an immersive global digital simulation where people interact with each other as avatars—digital iterations of themselves, walking around the digital landscape.

Shortly before the events of Ready Player Two, nostalgic OASIS inventor James Halliday holds a 1980s-themed contest to determine his rightful heirs. The winners will receive both his vast fortune and control of the simulation. The contest is won by four OASIS users—Wade, Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto—and Ready Player Two's narrative opens immediately after the four of them take control of the digital world.

One of the book's predominant narrative arcs raises a number of questions about feminism and patriarchy, which is clearly a deliberate choice on the author's part—Cline, for the most part, writes his female characters as fearless, dedicated, powerful warriors who manage to excel against increasingly difficult odds. In the novel's Kira Morrow storyline, this attention to gender equity takes the form of a long and restorative inquiry into the life of a woman marginalized by her circumstances.

When James Halliday secretly copies Kira Morrow's consciousness, he does it because he thinks of her as a "trophy" of sorts that he wants to win. If the Kira he knows in real life won't love him like he wants her to, he'll make his own Kira, and maybe the new one will. It's only when he watches her firsthand memories that he finally begins to think of her as a person rather than a desirable adjunct to his own story. Years later, as Wade collects the siren's shards and is exposed to those same memories, he has the same realization. He learns that Kira was much more than the sidekick the cultural record purports her to have been: she was the third creator of the OASIS, overlooked by history and overshadowed by the glory heaped on her male colleagues.

Conversely, some readers may struggle when trying to apply that same feminist lens to Wade's relationship with Art3mis. When they end their relationship early on in the text, Art3mis moves on with her life and focuses her energy on her humanitarian work and her own agenda. Wade, on the other hand, remains fixated on Art3mis for the several years between their breakup and their reconciliation. Though Art3mis has made it clear during that time that she's finished with him, he routinely scours the OASIS for news and video clips of her to stay constantly apprised of her whereabouts and actions.

While this trope—that a man's ongoing fixation on a disinterested woman is proof of his enduring love—is extremely common, it's brought into somewhat sharper focus when contrasted against the overt backdrop of the Kira Morrow storyline. Much of Ready Player Two's emotional arc is driven by the revelation that Kira was routinely undervalued, objectified, and marginalized by the men in her life, and one of the book's central morals seems to be predicated on recognizing her contributions and finally telling her story.

Kira, for all her suffering, does eventually receive some reconciliation for Halliday's inappropriate expressions of affection: he realizes what he's done wrong and makes a conscious effort to recalibrate the way he thinks about her. Halliday's revelation about his treatment of her represents the major redemptive moment for his character and the point at which...

(This entire section contains 931 words.)

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he's understood to be human after all.

In Wade's case, this lesson does not seem to be learned. By the end of the narrative, he and Art3mis are back together without any critical examination of his behavior in the interim. Unlike Halliday's reckoning, Wade's period of obsession and objectification toward Art3mis goes completely unaddressed. It's unclear whether this is a deliberate contrast to the Kira/Halliday storyline or whether the archetype of a single-minded hero is so prevalent in literature that the character naturally evolved in that model.

Just as he does in the first novel, Cline invokes 1980s pop culture nostalgia at every possible opportunity. In one scene, the main characters join forces with Morris Day and the Time to fight seven different career iterations of Prince. In another, they wander around a John Hughes–themed planet in an attempt to restore a favored alternate ending to Pretty in Pink. The narrative effect of this is double-edged—the book's setting feels culturally dense with Cline's nostalgia, but it also creates an echo chamber of sorts. By writing a future in which nostalgia is the prevalent cultural reference, the author has also created characters who have no native culture of their own to speak of. Most of the characters are literally orphaned, but they're figuratively and culturally orphaned, too—the only references that exist in the world of Ready Player Two are from decades before any of the characters were born.

The book is careful to explicitly interrogate the consequences of technological progress. In a fight with Wade in one of the early chapters, Art3mis asks him outright: these advancements might be improving life right now, but what will be the cost of embracing that progress? The book's subtler question is just as timely but less thoroughly explored: what are the implications of living in a world where cultural consumption has become so nostalgia-driven that it inhibits the creation of new work?