Parzival logs back into the OASIS, right back on Ludus, only to find the place is swarming with Sixers and a message from Aech saying they need to talk ASAP. You’d think this is an act of international war considering the Sixers are bringing in guns and military equipment from around the world, but that would imply a dynamic world that changes from anything but the actions of the main character.
Pazival calls Arch, who states what we already know about there being Sixers everywhere. They recap what happened literally a page ago and Aech is outraged. Aech offers to let Parzval stay with him and Parzival says he’s fine, but Aech should look out for himself. Aech says he stays mobile anyway so don’t worry about him.
Parzival does the decent thing and decides he needs to contact all of the top scoring Gunters to earn them about what happened. Aech decides to do the dramatic thing and says they should all meet in his chatroom, the Basement, after midnight. That’s cool and all but if we’ve got bombs going off the theatrics can wait until after everyone is warned.
Time passes and Parzival waits it out in the Basement. Art3mis and Aech hit it off right off the bat and spend a page drooling over each other’s stuff, because Geek Social Fallacy #4 is law in this world. Daito and Shoto show up next, and they get a single sentence (“Greetings. I am Daito. And this is my little brother Shoto. Thank you for the invitation. We are honored to meet all three of you.”) before the group gets down to business. Clearly the narrator has some favorites here.
They start off discussing the Sixers, to which Art3mis responds that the Sixers have already found the Copper Key. She tells them that she set up a video feed and shows them her feed of the Tomb of Horrors entrance. IOI has set up two force field domes around the entrance, one over the other, to keep any other Gunters away from the location. The protagonists cry foul and are sufficiently outraged that the Evil Guys are using Evil Tactics. Shoto and Daito say they have no honor, because that is their defining trait.
We retread some ground by having Parzival explain what happened to him last chapter, then have Art3mis ask how the Sixers figured out it was on Ludus, explain I-r0k’s message. The group proceeds to start congratulating each other on their skills and
[Art3mis] gave us all a sarcastic golf clap, which made everyone laugh. “Now, can we adjourn the Mutual Admiration Society and get back to the topic at hand?”
Hey, sporking’s my job!
Anyway, they get to discussing the Sixer’s rigs and tactics (with another “dishonor” from Daito), Parzival proposes they start working together, Daito says no way, a few (verbal) shots are fired, Daito says he has no reason to trust anyone and then logs out… I’m sorry, I can’t muster any enthusiasm for the conflict you’re trying to set up, book. Your main character was nearly murdered last chapter, I think he can handle a few mean words from strangers.
Everyone decides not to go for an alliance because they all know they wouldn’t honor one anyway and Art3mis leaves. Aech catches Parzival smiling when Art3mis leaves and calls him ont on his crush.
Hold it, someone needs to fire the editor. (Disclaimer: Don’t fire the editor, they’re probably a nice person who had their advice ignored.) Earlier Wade mentioned that he had his real-life-to-avatar translator turned off. Unless he decided to turn it on for this highly sensitive meeting, he shouldn’t be smiling unless he manually inputs the command to smile.
We get some teasing from Aech and Parzival brings up the Jade Key’s riddle. A pile of comics fall over in the corner and the two go to investigate it. Parzival is justifiably worried that someone is there and Aech is certain it was just a glitch. They part on good terms.
This chapter really should have come before the bomb. It’s hard to follow up a bomb with some catty behavior from a group that isn’t even really a group.
Over the next few hours the Scoreboard fills up with Sixer numbers and Sorrento’s is at the top. Wade goes full gatekeeper and insists that there is no way Sorrento could have done this on his own because he just didn’t seem like the type. He used to code for games, you don’t do that unless you really like games. There are so many other fields you can be coding for that pay so much better and have better conditions, that passively implies Sorrento has at least some nerd knowledge or nerdy drive to his actions.
Full out chaos breaks out on Ludus and the server mains have to clone the schools and move them to a new planet, Ludus II. There is a fight scene that will probably look cool in the movie but is just plain boring in the book which ends with the Gunters getting the force field down.
Back in the news of the real world, we find out that IOI planted drug equipment at the exploded trailer, so no one really looked into it much and they just kind of left behind the rubble because it’d be too dangerous to clean up. They find a few charred bodies but no one can identify them.
When Wade gets his first endorsement check, he heads out for Ohio on a bus, which apparently has a first class to it that has an inbuilt OASIS jack? In the far future Greyhound went out of business and Delta started attaching wheels to their plane, because I have never heard of a first class bus ticket for cross-state driving.
We get a description of the bus and it fits in pretty well with this awful world situation that’s supposed to be happening in the background of the bus. They’ve got bullet proof walls and six armed guards on the top of the bus to help protect them against scavengers and people who might try to rob the bus because things are even worse and desperate when you’re not in a big city.
Wade sets out to get himself a new identity by going to a business called L33t Hax0rz Warzhaus (a timeless name that will never get outdated) and buying himself a new identity. He just copies and pastes some information and his new name is Bryce Lynch, he’s 22 and he’s got a bachelor's in Computer Science. His old identity is now registered to his dead father’s fingerprints and retina scan. Wade then gets himself an apartment that designed for Gunters and pays 6 months rent up front to avoid drumming up any suspicion, which of course is the most suspicious thing you can do in this situation.
When Wade arrives, he has a mini freakout saying that this is the first time that the reality of his situation has hit him, despite spending the last two chapters letting the reality hit him. He copes with this by hunkering down and heading for his new apartment, where he vows not to go outside again until he finds the egg.
Another chapter that would serve as a decent bone to help connect the meat of this book, if there was any meat to be found. I’d probably leave out the Ludus II thing because it has nothing to do with anything else and makes it look like the government doesn't care about government sponsored schools in the OASIS, but I guess it’s nice to see the world actually moving around Wade.
The beginning of this chapter is formatted like a chatlog. There are some awkward bombshells in here that paraphrasing just doesn’t do justice to.
Art3mis: You there?
Parzival: Yes! Hey! I can't believe you finally responded to one of my chat requests.
Art3mis: Only to ask you to cut it out. It's a bad idea for us to start chatting.
This is where any decent person would respect the other person's wishes and go away. Wade is not a decent person so he pressures Art3mis into a conversation with him. She says she doesn't want to discuss Hunt stuff, he says they can talk about other stuff.
Parzival: Listen, why are we using this ancient text-only chat interface? I can host a virtual chatroom for us.
Art3mis: I prefer this.
Art3mis: As you may recall, I tend to ramble in real time. When I have to type out everything I want to say, I come off as less of a flibbertigibbet.
Parzival: I don't think you're a flibbertigibbet. You're enchanting.
Art3mis: Did you just use the word "enchanting"?
Parzival: What I typed is right here in front of you, isn't it?
Art3mis: That's very sweet. But you're full of crap.
Parzival: I am totally and completely serious.
Most regular women would consider this creepy as hell, but I guess Art3mis isn't like the other girls.
They get on to discussing Parzival's fame, which he kind of resents now because people are portraying him as a shut in. Art3mis comments that they're not wrong about a lot of the accusations even if they're exaggerated.
Art3mis: At least they got your gender correct. Everyone thinks I'm a man in real life.
Parzival: That's because most gunters are male, and they can't accept the idea that a woman has beaten and/or outsmarted them.
Art3mis: I know. Neanderthals.
Parzival: So you're telling me, definitively, that you are a female? IRL?
Art3mis: You should have already figured that out on your own, Clouseau.
Parzival: I did. I have.
Parzival: Yes. After analyzing the available data, I have concluded that you must be a female.
Art3mis: Why must I?
Parzival: Because I don't want to find out that I've got a crush on some 300 lb. dude named Chuck who lives in his mother's basement in suburban Detroit.
And here we have a classic example of a world that protagonist centered. If the possibility would make Wade unhappy, it must not be true.
Art3mis: You've got a crush on me?
Parzival: You should have already figured that out on your own, Clouseau.
Art3mis: What if I were a 300 lb. gal named Charlene who lives in her mother's basement in suburban Detroit? Would you still have a crush on me then?
Parzival: I don’t know. Do you live in your mother’s basement?
Parzival: Yeah. Then I probably still would.
Translation: Physical appearances don’t bother me, as long as it’s not outside of my pre-set parameters for what’s acceptable.
Art3mis: So I’m supposed to believe you’re one of those mythical guys who only cares about a woman’s personality, and not about the package it comes in?
Who’s ever heard about a man who says he cares about personality over appearances? Next you’ll be tell me there are men who insist that women look better without makeup (while criticizing the appearance of women who don’t wear it).
There’s a small conversation about Art3mis being sure that Wade is a man because he gives off “boy-vibes”.
Art3mis: Don’t change the subject. You were saying you have a crush on me?
Parzival: I’ve had a crush on you before we even met. From reading your blog and watching your POV. I’ve been cyber-stalking you for years.
If this were a better series, this would be the point where Art3mis blocks Parzival for being creepy. This is Ready Player One, so instead they get into a conversation about Parzival not actually knowing much about her beyond her public persona. He insists that because the OASIS isn’t connected to reality that people don’t filter their personalities when they’re on it, to which I have to laugh and laugh and laugh. Art3mis brings up the point that anyone can be anything on the OASIS, so it’s ripe for crafting a fake identity. Wade keeps pushing for a relationship, to which Art3mis says she’s uncomfortable dating online because eventually people are going to want to find out more about her physical identity. Parzival insists that he’d never ask for her real identity, because he’d never share his. She asks if he’s ugly IRL, he calls her a hypocrite until he finally responds:
Parzival: I must be.
Parzival: The females of the species has always found me repellent.
Nothing says attractive quite like fishing for pity points.
Art3mis: I don’t find you repellent.
Next they discuss Parzival’s age and what Art3mis looks like IRL, because Parzival so doesn’t care about that kind of stuff.
Art3mis: You’re kidding, right? That’s the first rule of online romances, pal. No one ever looks anything like their avatar.
Parzival: Are we going to have an online romance? *crosses fingers*
You keep pushing that angle while getting shot down at every opportunity, which Art3mis does because she doesn’t have time for romance. They start talking about boring real life stuff like where they go to school and both of them have dead parents. Art3mis is going to college, but she’s studying Creative Writing, because our smart girls can’t be too smart. Parzival asks Art3mis if they can do this again sometime and she says no.
Parzival: Can I at least keep e-mailing you?
Art3mis: Not a good idea.
Parzival: You can’t stop me from e-mailing you.
Art3mis: Actually, I can. I can block you on my contact list.
Parzival: You wouldn’t do that, though. Would you?
Art3mis: Not if you don’t force me to.
Parzival: Harsh. Unnecessarily harsh.
Art3mis: Good night, Parzival.
Parzival: Farewell, Art3mis. Sweet dreams.
We switch back to the paragraph format and find out that over the next few weeks Art3mis and Parzival are hanging out a lot and start to have a budding relationship off camera. Wade graduates high school and they send him a digital diploma-
No Wade, you don't get a high school diploma. First of all, you’re dead as far as anyone is concerned. I’m pretty sure the same records that IOI used to track your address are going to show that there are charred bodies from where you were supposed to be living. Dead kids don’t graduate high school. Second, you can’t graduate high school if, as the text says, you’ve missed three weeks of school and already had bad grades. They hold you back for that shit. Earlier you were saying you couldn’t miss much class because you couldn’t afford it.
Cline, you can’t write a character into a bad situation then ignore the repercussions. That is not how conflict works. This is an issue you can’t just handwave away.
Back to the plot, which just had any tension deflated from it by giving us weeks of nothing happening:
Parzival levels up off screen and thinks about the riddle. Here it is again since it’s been a while since we’ve seen it.
The captain conceals the Jade Key
in a dwelling long neglected
But you can only blow the whistle
once the trophies are all collected
He concludes that the captain part of this riddle has to do with the hacker Captain Crunch who hacked into phone lines by using a whistle found at the bottom of the cereal boxes. He doesn’t connect anything else.
We fast forward a few more weeks where Art3mis and Parzival continue to hang out and go on dates, though disguised because the Sixers are still a thing. It’s pretty much glossed over. Next chapter Parzival is going to confess his love for Art3mis. This is exactly what I came here for, awkward nerdy romance that happens pretty much entirely off screen.
Wade, stop being a creeper. Pedestal are a rocky foundation for a relationship and stalking and harassing someone isn't endearing. Also, WTF story? There are weeks going on between plot points and that is not good for the kind of story you’re setting up. The heat is supposed to be on, it’s not time to stop and develop a relationship with your love interest, it’s time to be racing the clock. But even the protagonist knows he has plot armor, so of course he’s stopping to smell the roses instead of worrying about petty things like the Sixers getting the Egg before him or someone finding out where he is. To finish it off, dead people don't get high school diplomas.
This whole chapter could use some love. Make the romance less creepy by cutting out that faux-feminist stuff and that "I've been watching you from a distance" bullshit. Try to build on the tension from the previous chapters by having Wade trying his hardest to find the Jade Key and not giving him weeks of down time to relax and get comfortable again. Hell, this is a good argument for having Wade be level 99 to begin with since his low level has never handicapped him at any point in this story, and here it's magically fixed off screen.