‘I’m not as fast as Stephen King’: Ernest Cline explains why Ready Player Two comes after a decade-long wait

Ernie Cline   | Photo Credit: Dan Winters

Fans of the pop-culture-stuffed world of Ready Player One have had to wait for almost 10 years to return to the simulated wonderland of the Oasis. Set in 2045, Ernest Cline’s début novel in 2011 was set on a planet devastated by climate change with a majority of the populace in the Oasis created by tech genius James Halliday. Upon his death, Halliday devised a contest where the winner would not only gain his enormous fortune, but also get control of his creation.

In 2018, Steven Spielberg adapted the book into a successful movie, and its sequel, Ready Player Two was out last month. Excerpts from an interview with Cline who talks of the pros and cons of writing a sequel, his fascination for 80s pop culture and more.

How has Steven Spielberg impacted your style?

We started talking about the sequel on the sets of the first movie. Steven has a great storytelling sensibility that has helped shape my storytelling since childhood. To be able to bounce ideas off him and get his feedback was so gratifying. He was encouraging through the whole process, never hurried me, and read different drafts and gave feedback. I'm grateful for his time and his kindness.

‘I’m not as fast as Stephen King’: Ernest Cline explains why Ready Player Two comes after a decade-long wait

How much of Ready Player Two was influenced by the film? For instance, Aech being scared of horror movies.

Yes, that was one part. I tried hard to not have too many references to the movie. For instance, Daito dies in the novel but lives in the movie and there was no way I was going to bring him back. I wanted to write a sequel to my book and be true to that story. Having said that, I couldn’t help being influenced by the movie a little bit. The other detail that draws from the film also relates to Aech. Spielberg selected a song by Prince, ‘I Want to be your Lover’, for the scene in which Parzival and Art3mis meet for the first time. I thought Aech would be a huge Prince fan and that made me connect them and it led to the whole Prince challenge in Ready Player Two. Also, the actress who played Aech, Lena Waithe, is a huge Prince fan. The movie is definitely a sequel to Ready Player One the book and not the film.

Why is there a nine-year gap between the two novels?

I wrote another novel, Armada, which came out in 2015. I wrote it’s screenplay along with Ready Player One and my daughter was born too. Both novels are elaborate, like puzzle boxes with pop culture references. The way the challenges fit together takes me a long time. I am not as fast as Stephen King, I don’t know how he does it. (Laughs)

Cline’s favourites
  • Book: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Movie: Tie between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Band: Prince
  • Game: Black Tiger

What are the pros and cons of writing a sequel?

The pro is that if the original was popular, you have an in-built audience. I didn’t have to do as much world-building, but I had a lot of new ideas and technology that I was introducing. The con is expectation, which I believe are resentments waiting to happen. The first novel was a surprise. It was then made into a Steven Spielberg movie and people are coming to the novel with their arms folded thinking ‘this better be good’ (laughs).

What is the answer to Nolan Sorrento’s question, ‘Don’t you kids ever get tired of picking through the wreckage of a past generation’s nostalgia’?

Sorrento (the fictional character who wants to take over the Oasis) is a corporate guy who doesn’t get pop culture. Youngsters growing up now are already steeped in ‘80s pop culture thanks to shows like Stranger Things. For me, it’s the only culture I’ve ever known and I love how it can connect you with people. The reason the kids in Ready Player One and its sequel don’t get tired of pop culture is because it is so much a part of who they are and it connects them.

A still from Ready Player One

A still from Ready Player One   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Is Ready Player Two inspired by a few episodes of Black Mirror?

There are some Black Mirror episodes that have a brain-computer interface, but it was not an inspiration. The show draws from the same things I did — William Gibson’s book, Neuromancer, and two films, Brainstorm and Strange Days. There’s also the Japanese anime, Sword Art Online, that inspired me.

Why is so little of Ready Player Two set in the real world?

It’s partly because now the Oasis is indistinguishable from reality with the advent of the ONI, the brain-computer interface. Also, the real world is tricky. The more I fleshed it out, the more wrong I’m going to be about my predictions. On the other hand, I felt I could extrapolate the Oasis and the virtual world 25 years ahead just from my knowledge of video games.

For the die-hard fan
  • Has Parzival grown as a character?
  • Yes. The story picks up nine days after Ready Player One ended. The main protagonist Wade Owen Watts (virtual name, Parzival) was 19 at the end of the first book, and meets Samantha Cook (Oasis username Art3mis) in-person for the first time in the final pages. Though it seems like a happy ending, I knew they would face serious problems in their relationship and the company they have to control. I wanted to show him struggling with success, how he’s not equipped for it. As for Art3mis’ unsuccessful efforts to make the world a better place, money cannot fix everything.
  • Why are Art3mis’ efforts to make the world a better place unsuccessful?
  • Because it is too big a job. Sometimes you can have all the money and resources in the world and still, you can’t prevent something from happening. Money is not a panacea, it cannot fix everything. I don’t want to be a pessimist. I think that humanity is full of potential and if we can unite and work to solve these problems, we can do anything.

On Will Wheaton (of Star Trek: The Next Generation) reading for the Ready Player One audiobook...

He was one of my favourite actors growing up. We were both born in 1972, are geeks, love movies, sci-fi and role playing games. I instinctively knew that he would be perfect as he adds his own voice and verbal interpretation of the story that many prefer to reading text. It was the most popular audiobook of the last decade — it debuted at number one on The New York Times’ audiobook category and retained the position for five months.

Which segments of the hunt did you enjoy the most?

My favourite was probably the Prince section. I never tried to gamify a musician’s catalogue before. I don’t think it was my least favourite section, but the most difficult one was creating the Tolkien planet. There are a lot of books and different versions of Middle Earth that were created over the years. So that was a tonne of research I had to do.

Is Ready Player Two’s film adaptation on the cards?

It is a crazy time for the movies out there, but I do think I think there is a good chance that it could become a movie someday. We’ll have to wait to see.

Published by Penguin Random House UK, the book is priced at ₹699

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 7:08:03 PM |

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