The premise is that our antihero has become one of the idle rich. Having won trillions of dollars, he's discovered something that will make even more staggeringly rich in a virtual headset that allows you to directly implant physical feedback to your brain. You can eat, have sex, smell, and have 100% accuracy versus the previous rigs that could mostly just simulate sex at best. Wade immediately markets this untested technology and loses his girlfriend Samantha/Artemis as a result. Sam, perhaps realizing its inventor was a lunatic, refuses to have anything to do with technology that directly interfaces with the brain.
Not to spoil what is self-obvious but, eventually, they end up with yet another of the late Jim Halliday's Easter Egg hunts but with the added fact that an insane AI is going to kill five hundred million people if Wade doesn't finish it in a single night. This raises the stakes considerably and it is off to the worlds of Prince, Tolkien, John Hughes, and Ninja Princess to save the day. There will be spider-tank fights and huge showdowns between godlike beings that seem like something straight out of Dragonball Z (which is oddly not mentioned unlike Sailor Moon).
The Good: Ernest Cline going off of the well-traveled routes of Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, and other stereotypical geek media to Prince as well as John Hughes is a smart decision. I never realized how many Kevin Smith jokes I wasn't getting due to lacking an enyclopediac knowledge of John Hughes. I also was surprised to discover I *was* a Prince superfan due to the fact I got every one of those references. There's some definite cringe in Ernest Cline's attempts to be progressive but, you know what, I approve of this attempts to make it clear he supports gay as well as trans rights. That puts him over some certain big name writers I know. Also, at the very end, there's a genuine desire to talk about not treating your crushes as objects as well as moving on when they don't return your feelings. Plus, L0hengrin is awesome and deserves her own book even if she's just kind of a Wade/Artemis hybrid.
The Bad: This book is extremely up and down like a heart monitor with very little structure. We only get the actual plot started about midway through and there's lots of strange parts like Wade taking the time to explain Halliday's mad experiments on disabled veterans in the middle of a sentence. I think the nadir of weird moments is the fact that Wade explains every single level of Ninja Princess' seventeen or so ones despite the fact it's a twenty-minute game with little plot. Sorento returning adds nothing since he's portrayed as having gone completely insane from his imprisonment. Finally, I think Wade's unambiguous embracing of brain uploading is a bit iffy given that so much effort is spent discussing how wrong it is to copy people without their permission. That was a great opportunity to quote Riker and Star Trek: The Next Generation too.
The Iffy: I give props for the fact that Ernest Cline is not afraid to show that fame and fortune made Wade into a complete scumbag. Without Artemis, he goes around killing the avatars of people who trash talk him and uses his lawyers to bankrupt a punk band that calls him out like Peter Thiel did Gawker. He also wastes 300 billion dollars on a spaceship to escape the Earth when 300 billion dollars would end world hunger today according to current scientific estimates. However, we already went through this plot arc in the first book and the fact Wade lives alone with no friends in his idol's mansion for half-a-decade makes him look, well, nuts.
Do I recommend Ready Player Two? Ehhh, maybe? I mean I read it to the end and I am not afraid to DNF books that I do not like. The John Hughes and Prince planets are incredible and easily the best parts of the book. There's also some incredibly satisfying trash-talking about the character of Duckie from Pretty in Pink despite the fact that the book has Wade repeatedly mention how much trash talking other people's works of art. So, uh, yeah.
If you liked the first book, you'll probably also like the second book. Will Wheaton does a fantastic job but I feel like I probably should have read the ebook instead. However, that presently costs fourteen dollars and I can tell you is definitely not worth it. I do think I'll watch the movie version as I suspect it'll do an excellent job of cleaning up the story arc problems. Besides, if you know me as a writer then you know I'm not anyone to criticize dad jokes and 80s nostalgia.