Ready Player Two: interview with Ernest Cline

Originally published at:


To be sure, @thomdunn has a different hot take on this milestone.

It would be an understatement to say that I did not enjoy Ready Player One. Not even a personally-targeted Cory Doctorow reference could save my reading experience from the feeling that I’d been cheated by some ancient demon designed to kill my brain through cheap pandering in an otherwise empty void of masturbatory literary schlock.


Based on the early samples of Ready Player Two that have been floating around the Internet, it has somehow achieved the near-superhuman distinction of somehow being worse.


So I guess we’re not actually getting Ready Player Two: Girl Stuff.


Is the new book a continuation of the first book or the weak movie adaptation? If it sticks to the world of the movie, I’m not optimistic.

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Heh, and others.

Penny Arcade

Apparently they were also…bivalent about the original.

Me, I’m just jealous of people with the time and energy to read “pop filth”, or anything at all, really.


Nope, but there is nonbinary sex.

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Weird things happen when fandoms cross-breed. Star Trek was a futuristic Horatio Hornblower, Star Wars was WW2 allied bomber missions. When you combine the two, you’re really not extending Hornblower or bombers into the future, you’re really just writing about those fandoms.

Nothing wrong with that, GalaxyQuest, Black Mirror, The Orville, and Lower Decks all do a good job of it. But at some point, I think audiences want stories based in some kind of reality that’s outside their own heads.

I know, let’s make a movie about the tulip bubble of 1637, the dance epidemic of 1518, and the saint’s pageants of the 1300s. Only it’s set in the future, ten minutes from now!


I’m impressed he managed to read it; these just look awful to me.

Having said that, they’re presumably like candy for a certain kind of reader (apparently including Cory Doctorow). I just have a different sort of literary candy. For instance, I jumped all over Charles Stross’s Laundry novels and Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London novels. First person narrators with self-deprecating humor in otherwise serious novels, spy novel/police procedural pastiches and magic with and without the Cthulhu mythos–what’s not to like?

But not everyone will agree.


Plus the Rivers of London novels have audio books with absolutely fabulous narration.


Definitely check out the podcast 372 Pages We’ll Never get Back. MST3k’s and RiffTrax’s Michael J. Nelson and Conor Lastowka riffing bad books. It all started with Ready Player One as their first book, and they have just started Ready Player Two this week.


Kobna Holbrook-Smith is great. He’s the perfect narrator for those books.


I’m still a little gobsmacked that the series is written by a white dude who has no police experience, but I totally assumed otherwise by the writing.

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I get the idea that one could gain perspective an empathy from experiencing “brainstorm” like recordings of people another view such as opposite sex and actually feeling it as if you were that person or male on male sex. You could understand people better.

But fuck me did he express that with so much cringe.

At least that paragraph didn’t bring up Max Headroom so I would have to lose more love for that show.

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Don’t forget the Rifftrax treatment of the first movie!

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It’s the thinking man’s Family Guy!

That Spielberg, a supposed worshipper at the altar of fine cinema, chose to rob a generation of the singular experience of The Shining firsthand is unforgivable, IMO. Fortunately, the 14 yo Peas were profoundly impressed and rightly disturbed once I finally showed it for them. It’s hard to top a master.

Also: I’m still angry that the end of RP1 convinced me I had to give Rush’s 2112 a thorough listen. Ugh. (with apologies to all of the Rush lovers here on BBS; it is there we part ways).

I thought RPO was a gamer pastiche of American Psycho. The way the books talk obsessively about brands and consumerism is extremely similar, right down to the way it veers suddenly into nostalgic reviews of media that the narrator uses to construct his personality. It’s uncanny. Haven’t been able to play Capcom’s 1987 arcade classic Black Tiger, known in Japan as Black Dragon and exquisitely scored by Tamayo Kawamoto, since.


I think the reason it (and Cline novels in general) are so controversial is because the political dimensions of gamer nostalgia are usually cloaked in irony, but RPO isn’t ironic for a moment. Irony acts like a protein sheath around a virus, to prevent our immune systems noticing it. The constant cringing irony around gamer nostalgia is true even of big movies like Wreck it Ralph and Pixel: they’re slathered with insincerity and sarcasm about the media they invoke.

But Cline is 100% earnest. Not a shade of guile, no caviling, no clever shading. Just pure unleavened nostalgia, and the idea that you can build your world entirely out of nostalgia.

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I’m not sure I agree with this Dx. To be sure, there’s irony at play (I don’t think you could shout “1.21 jigawatts!” without ironic intent) but the appreciation on the whole for the media – especially among the original consumers – I would wager is largely in earnest.

The problem I see with Cline’s writing is not so much the earnestness as it is general cack-handedness at graceful narrative and prose. It comes off as the broadest Marty Stu wish-fulfillment fantasy. Every longing the main character feels comes to fruition, every hunch they have is borne out, every piece of knowledge needed to advance the plot is conveniently at hand for them. Every beat is telegraphed from the moment it’s introduced. References are wedged in left and right until the suitcase can’t be zipped closed anymore. No consideration is given to whether it even makes sense to fit the references together – it comes off about as gracefully as the idea of making a vehicle that’s part Delorean, part KITT, part Ectomobile, and part Banzai jet-car. The whole is very much less than the sum of its parts.

Nor does he trust his reader to follow along: each time he drops a reference, he spends words – occasionally whole sentences or paragraphs – contextualizing why that reference is a reference and why it’s significant to him. This suggests that he thinks his reader needs this explanation – which, if you needed that level of explanation for every reference in his books, or even a plurality of them, then you probably wouldn’t appreciate the premise of the book. Not only that, the whole approach is a fundamental violation of “show, don’t tell”.

RP1 skated by on its relative originality and nostalgia-farming, but a moment’s reflection (or a reread) makes it read painfully like mediocre fanfic. Armada was an unreadable abomination. That said, RP2 might be atrocious enough to make a good hate-read, especially if those snippets are any indication.


Admittedly I’m forming an opinion solely on the basis of excerpts from the books, but my attitude toward RP1 is largely the same. From an external view, it’s about a character who thinks having an encyclopedic knowledge of 80s pop culture is a serviceable replacement for a personality, written by someone who seems to think that having an encyclopedic knowledge of 80s pop culture is a serviceable replacement for a personality. It doesn’t seem to want to engage with the nostalgia of its references or examine the media that comprise them, it just wants you to know that the character, and by extension the author, knows about them, and that because knowing about them is essential to the plot of winning the big puzzle game, they’re the best. It’s Scary Movie 4, not Scream. Or perhaps Gatekeeping: The Novel: The Movie: The Game: The Novel.

The movie seems to have a similar problem, just with a modified repertoire of media to reference. Any narrative that thinks it’s fine to unironically turn The Iron Giant back into a gun doesn’t have its head screwed on straight. (And because this constantly gets brought up whenever I or anyone else complain about this on Twitter, I know it’s a character in the movie that opts to use The Iron Giant as an avatar, but that doesn’t really change the underlying fact that the film is engaging in what is effectively nostalgia click-bait without comprehending or even touching on the problematic nature of such uninformed media appropriation on either a narrative or meta-textual level.)


Found a fellow on Twitter who has already torn the book apart and largely satisfied my curiosity on the matter.

What really surprises me is that Cline expounds at length about how absolutely transcendent it would be if you could watch old movies, but entirely from the perspective of the protagonist and reciting all their dialog verbatim, and Spielberg apparently continued to take him seriously.