Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline continues the story of Wade Watts that began in the author's first novel "Ready Player One" - a novel of the near future that was a huge hit with middle aged nerds.

Wade and his friends are now in control of the largest company in the world. This company that controls the OASIS - a virtual world in which people can escape and live out their fantasies. Wade is rich and famous, but he is not happy. He has lost his girlfriend, has little contact with his friends, and is unpopular with the public and he is to blame for most of his problems. His world turns even worse when a malevolent AI within the OASIS hacks the entire system, trapping millions of users inside and threatening to kill them unless Wade and friends complete a quest to find the Seven Shards.

The hook of this novel is not dissimilar to the earlier one: young people must navigate a virtual world, showing off their video game proficiency and knowledge of late 20th century pop culture to overcome a series of challenges .

There are a couple key differences with the earlier novel: RP2 has a much darker tone than RP1; and there is a narrower focus on pop culture in this one. While RP1 bombarded the reader with an enormous amount of 1980s and 1990s references, RP2 dives deeper into fewer topic topics, such as Tolkien's Middle Earth, the music of Prince, and the movies of John Hughes. The lines between good and evil are less clearly drawn.

I appreciated that this book acknowledges a glaring logic hole in its predecessor. The earlier novel presented the creators of the OASIS as benevolent geniuses trying to build an alternate, better world than the dystopia outside. But it ignored one important corollary: as people spent more time escaping into virtual reality or supporting its infrastructure and economy, they neglected the real world even more, causing contributing to its accelerated deterioration. "Ready Player Two" raises this issue and highlights even more flaws in the OASIS creators. The addictive nature of the virtual world is intensified by the introduction of headsets that offer a more immersive experience by interacting directly with the user's brain waves.

With a film adaptation almost certain, it was difficult to read it without envisioning how it would translate to a big screen with expensive CGI affects.

Ready Player Two presents a familiar formula which will resonate with Cline's fans. We can see the themes Cline is addressing: The corruption of wealth and power; The dangers of addiction; and the inevitable disappointment of hero worship. But the execution lacks the originality and charm of the first book. Still, I found it to be enjoyable escapism.