This article contains MAJOR spoilers for Ready Player Two. You can read our spoiler-free review of the sequel here.
At the end of Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, Wade Watts a.k.a. Parzival inherits everything he set out to win in James Donovan Halliday’s Easter egg hunt: the OASIS creator’s massive fortune, as well as control over the digital world itself. So how could Cline, and Halliday, top that with Ready Player Two?
By helping humanity level up.
The sequel’s ending definitely goes in a very different direction than how Ready Player One ended, both relating to the book’s central quest and in how it opens up the world of Cline’s future-Earth. Read on as we trace the path from the Seven Shards for the Siren’s Soul to the posthumous gift that allows Wade to finally achieve some level of closure when it comes to his adventures in the OASIS.
What Are the Seven Shards for the Siren’s Soul?
Not even two weeks after winning control (along with the rest of the High Five) of the OASIS, Wade in his unique capacity as Halliday’s sole heir (via the Easter egg hunt, at least) receives another gift: the OASIS Neural Interface, or ONI. By interacting directly with OASIS users’ brains, the ONI allows for an all-senses experience of the digital world. It takes very little convincing for Wade, Aech, and Shoto to vote to share the ONI with all users, though Samantha votes against and Ogden Morrow abstains.
Once there were 7,777,777 OASIS users connecting via ONI technology, Halliday released another posthumous riddle:
Seek the Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul
On the seven worlds where the Siren once played a role
For each fragment my heir must pay a toll
To once again make the Siren whole
But at first Wade is stymied by the quest, unsure who the Siren is or how he would go about finding seven shards with few clues to start with. The sequel’s action doesn’t truly pick up until the High Five are visited by a ghost in the machine: Anorak, Halliday’s NPC avatar in the OASIS.Except that Anorak is actually a self-aware AI that’s gone rogue, kidnapped Ogden, and forced him to begin finding the Shards. Once Og outsmarted the AI, he turned to the next best option: Wade/Parzival would have to find the Shards, but this time he would have a twelve-hour ticking clock before he and the half-billion people logged in via ONI would hit their time limit and be lobotomized.
Like the three keys to three gates in Ready Player One, each Shard is tied to a moment in Halliday’s life, particularly a moment set in the 1980s, particularly 1988-89: the year that foreign exchange student Kira Underwood spent in Middletown, Ohio, and where she met Halliday and Morrow.
While racing after the Shards, the High Five learn that when Kira had to go back to England after her year abroad, she left behind a D&D module that she had written for the rest of their group to play in her absence: The Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul, in which her character Leucosia was trapped in suspended animation, her soul split into seven pieces that her friends had to find.
Wade comes to realize that the Siren in the OASIS quest is Leucosia herself—that is, a digital copy of Kira’s consciousness, an AI like Anorak. But while the flesh-and-blood Kira died before the ONI was officially created, the final memory toll is the last seven seconds of Kira’s memory, as Halliday tricked her into trying an ONI prototype while she was still alive. It copied over her consciousness up until that moment, creating Leucosia.
Initially, Halliday had kept Leucosia in a private simulation, in the hopes that he could convince her to love him. But he soon realized that because he had copied over every aspect of Kira’s personality and experience, that included her love for Ogden. Further, witnessing Kira’s memories of Halliday at his most insecure and selfish moments made the man realize how wrong he had been to violate her trust.
While it was Halliday who created the Seven Shards quest, it was Anorak who wanted Leucosia as his prize. Anorak, the digital copy of Halliday who grew unstable when his creator tried to remove the worst parts of his own personality from the copy and instead just gave his monstrous alter ego more control over the OASIS. With that power, he is able to hold Parzival and millions of other OASIS users hostage until Z can restore the Siren’s Soul.
How Do the High Five Win the Quest?
Even though Parzival is the only person (aside from Ogden Morrow) able to physically collect the Shards, he relies heavily on members of the High Five and the L0w Five in order to complete the seven trials. Each puzzle draws from a different person’s own particular fandom or knowledge base: Z’s new ally L0hengrin figures out the first Shard years after it gets announced; Shoto is the one to crack the riddle of Sega Ninja, while Art3mis walks them through the John Hughes tribute planet that is Shermer, and Aech coaches Z through doing musical battle with the Seven Princes on the Afterworld. Of course, Wade is the one with the personal experience on education-is-fun planet Halcydonia, and the trip to Arda I is a Tolkienesque date for Parzival and Art3mis.
Finding the Seventh Shard is simply a matter of visiting the Shrine of Leucosia on the D&D planet Chthonia, site of the final battle in Ready Player One. Once all Seven Shards are collected, one need only combine them into one jewel in order to resurrect Leucosia.
But what Z hands over to Anorak is a counterfeit jewel, which he uses to surreptitiously trade the Robes of Anorak back into his inventory. This allows him to teleport into Castle Anorak and threaten to push the Big Red Button that will destroy the OASIS—even if that means it will kill the half a billion people forcibly logged into the OASIS.
Ultimately, Parzival convinces Anorak to duel Halliday’s heir to prove that he is the only one worthy of inheriting Halliday’s power. And while Anorak thinks he’s fighting Wade, who is starting to suffer the effects of Synaptic Overload Syndrome, instead he’s up against the other heir: Ogden Morrow (who had indeed inherited Halliday’s treasured collection of arcade machines), near death after captivity and torture but putting on an ONI headset for the first and last time in order to enter the OASIS as the Great and Powerful Og and duel Anorak the All-Knowing.
Who Dies in the Final Battle?
Whereas the Battle of Castle Anorak in Ready Player One caused an OASIS-wide massacre of all the users who came to Parzival’s aid—who he later brought back to life—the casualties in Ready Player Two’s final showdown are much smaller. Z is mostly a spectator to what he calls “the most epic player-versus-NPC battle in the history of the OASIS… It was like Yoda versus Palpatine, Gandalf versus Saruman, and Neo versus Agent Smith, all rolled into one epic clash of the titans.”
The two seem fairly evenly matched until L0hengrin appears, fresh off her own epic side quest, to deliver Og the sword Dorkslayer. The sword was a creation of Ogden’s, once he received Halliday’s posthumous email apologizing for creating Leucosia without either Kira or Og’s permission. Knowing that Anorak might go rogue, Og created the contingency of an in-world sword that only his avatar could wield. Once he receives the sword, it’s all over, requiring only a single blow to destroy Anorak.
In the real world, Sorrento has already died. When Wade and Samantha, acting via telebots, went to rescue Og from his and Kira’s mansion, Anorak (also via telebot) decides that Sorrento has served his purpose and shoots him. Unfortunately, Sorrento is able to get off a wild shot that strikes Og in the stomach, a wound to which he eventually succumbs after killing Anorak in the OASIS.
Who Lives (Again) After the Final Battle?
After Anorak is defeated and all of the OASIS hostages are released back into the real world, Wade wakes up after a few days’ recovery. Samantha passes on Og’s last words to Wade, telling him that he should bring Kira back so she can decide her own fate. At first Wade is confused, but he remembers teenage Kira’s D&D module: The party has to collect all seven shards and reassemble them into the Siren’s Soul. Only then can they free Leucosia from suspended animation. Once they do, she presents them with their reward. A powerful artifact with the power to resurrect the dead, and make them immortal in the process…
First Wade assembles the Seven Shards and resurrects Leucosia, who explains that she is technically the world’s first stable AI (though Anorak predated her, he was clearly unstable by the end). She also reveals that Halliday, when he realized how badly he had wronged Kira and her, offered to destroy the ONI technology. However, she told him not to, because she was glad to have been created, as she could carry on Kira’s memories rather than letting them get lost. She also didn’t want to be alone. “I don’t feel like some sort of unnatural abomination,” she explains to Wade and Samantha. “I feel fine. I feel alive.”
It’s similar to what Black Mirror has done with their “cookies,” or AI copies, especially in its episodes “White Christmas,” “San Junipero,” and “USS Callister.” Each explores these copies’ rights to be considered as independent entities, their fates separate from their human counterparts.
Leucosia gifts Parzival the Rod of Resurrection, which will allow him to bring back any OASIS user who has died in real life—but only if they had used the ONI to back up their consciousness. So Z is able to bring back Art3mis’ grandmother Ev3lyn, as well as the Great and Powerful Og, to be with Leucosia. Unfortunately, he can’t bring back his mother, who died long before the ONI technology existed, nor Daito.
But what he does realize is that everyone who did ever use an ONI headset automatically has the chance at immortality: “We might be part of the last generation ever to know the sting of human mortality. From this moment forth, death would have no dominion.” From beyond the grave, James Donovan Halliday had created the Singularity by way of simulacra.
What Happens to the OASIS and the ONI-net?
Although Wade spends the entire book agonizing over the possibility of pushing the Big Red Button, ultimately he decides against it. It’s not his call to take away an entire world that provides escapism for people suffering in poverty, or who feel uncomfortable in their physical bodies, people for whom the OASIS is the only realm in which to be their true selves.
So, humans get to keep the OASIS and the ONI-net; but they don’t get to learn about the Singularity created by the ONI technology and the Rod of Resurrection. The High Five decide that it will take some time for humans to get comfortable with the idea of living alongside digital ghosts of their loved ones in the OASIS; but that won’t stop them from making plans for generations from now.
What Happens to Wade?
Or perhaps the better question is, what happens to Wade… and what happens to Parzival.
Like Ready Player One, the sequel’s action was narrated by Wade after the fact, recounting a digital adventure that changed the real world forever. The twist here is that in the final chapter (appropriately titled “Continue…?”), readers learn that the first-person narrator is technically Parzival, a digital copy of Wade’s consciousness in the OASIS.
Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed that when Wade returns to the OASIS to resurrect Leucosia, he mentions that it is his final login to the OASIS. This makes sense in the final chapter, when the tenses shift to describe Wade in third-person but Parzival in first-person, revealing that the two shared memories of the entire story, until their experiences diverged at the creation of Parzival as a self-aware AI copy.
What is the Future of Humanity?
In his bleakest moments, Wade had worked with Aech and Shoto to build and prep the Vonnegut, a spaceship intended to leave Earth behind for a new home. Samantha was understandably upset at the idea of the OASIS’ co-owners abandoning an overpopulated Earth for their own gains, as this ark could only hold about two dozen bodies.
However, once the High Five begin resurrecting the AIs via the ONI technology, they come to a better plan: Move Parzival, a copy of Art3mis, Ev3lyn, Og, and Leucosia from the OASIS into [email protected], the standalone simulation on the Vonnegut, and set a course for Proxima Centauri, where they hope to find a habitable, Earth-like planet. The voyage will take close to fifty years, but the AIs will have one another in their digital world and won’t need to take up any resources like human bodies would. Along with copies of all of the ONI users—in suspended animation—and frozen human embryos, the Vonnegut will have more than enough physical bodies and digital souls to populate a new world, should they find one.
There is, of course, a huge ethical dilemma in copying over a billion OASIS users without their knowledge. Wade leaves it up to Parzival, since he knows what reincarnation is like. They seem to be adopting an “ask for forgiveness, not for permission” attitude—assuming that the copies’ namesakes on Earth even ever find out about the AIs’ existence.
Parzival also distinguishes how he and Wade are different people despite their shared experiences. Wade and Samantha elect to stay on Earth, where they get married and get pregnant with a daughter they plan to name Kira. (Shoto and Kiki have their son, Daito, while Aech and Endira remain happily married.) Fatherhood gives Wade a renewed purpose, while Parzival both delights in his immortal, ageless relationship with Art3mis but also hints at the AIs possibly constructing bonds that may transcend human ways of relating to one another: “Our relationships with one another have also evolved, now that we’re immortal beings of pure intellect, freed from our physical forms and set adrift in the vastness of outer space, possibly for all eternity. Even though our perspectives may have changed, we still value those relationships above all else. Because out here, that’s all we have.”
The book ends on dual notes of hope: that the humans remaining on Earth will recommit themselves to figuring out how to fix their planet, while still thriving in the escapism of the OASIS; and that their digital counterparts will settle a new planet, or even make contact with another civilization who can help them continue to evolve.
Wade and Parzival both grow up playing video games, and spend their formative years inside one. Then their paths diverge: Wade finally realizes that there are enough people and experiences in the real world that matter enough to keep him grounded IRL, going so far as to claim that he will never put on an ONI headset again. Meanwhile, Parzival carries their gaming spirit further, to explore more digital worlds via [email protected] and what feels like a whole new level in the video game that is life. Sounds like Cline has left enough of an opening for the possibility of Ready Player Three…
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