I really loved Ready Player One. I know it gets a lot of criticism for just being a string of references, but I thought it nailed exactly what it was going for, it was fun, indulgent nostalgia wish fulfillment. I had varying levels of familiarity with the different references, but even the ones I had no attachment too were engaging because of the enthusiasm put into it.
When this sequel came out, I heard a lot of similar criticisms of the poor reference-heavy writing that I dismissed and queued this up to read soon. But then I saw people who liked the first book being pretty critical of this one as well so I decided to push it off... but then recently the audiobook became available through the library's Skip The Line program despite being reserved for several months, and I was between audiobooks, so I jumped on it.
** Spoilers **
Ready Player Two is not very fun. The main character isn't fun to be with, he's kind of a shitty person at a shitty place in his life and not happy about it. In the first book, he gleefully undertakes his quest and is a super fan of everything he experiences, in this one he barely knows anything about what he's doing and is just forced to do it quickly by the bad guy. I'm even more familiar with the references in this book than the last and yet they were far less fun.
The way this book tries to both bring up social and moral issues of the technology it uses, while also refusing to have any consequences of it for the characters is absolutely insane to me. The entire plot is about how a rogue AI based off of a real person neatly kills billions of people, but the conclusion at the end is that it was just a one-off occurrence and actually AI memory people are actually super neat? The main character spies on people without their knowledge, copies people's entire consciousnesses into these AI things without their knowledge, and at worst he gets a scolding from his girlfriend about that, who eventually comes around to it anyway because she has her grandma back digitally now. But at least the main character learned enough to not use this technology anymore, even though he continues to profit off billions of people still using it and also maintains direct communication with the AI created by it.
I don't think it's all bad, there's still some enjoyable moments that reminded me of what it felt to read the first book. I was probably wavering between a two and a three star rating while reading most of it. The ending definitely cemented it on the lower end that I was leaning to anyways.
I still think the first book probably holds up, as I outlined some of the differences above, but reading this makes me worried that I would have a lot of problems with it if I were to read it again today. Maybe I'll give it a shot sometime.