I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
“I was staring out the classroom window and daydreaming of adventure when I spotted the flying saucer”.
“Extraterrestial visitors had permeated pop culture for so long that they were now embedded in humanity’s collective unconscious, preparing us to deal with the real thing, now that it was actually happening”.
“My heart was rocked by waves of unbridled joy. It occurred to me that up until this moment I’d only ever experienced the bridled kind. Having the reins slipped off my heart after a lifetime of wearing them was a bit overwhelming – in the best possible way”.
Ernest Cline’s sophomore novel is a story of Zack Lightman (his name is more superhero-y than Peter Parker), a teenage video game enthusiast who comes from a family of gaming enthusiasts, is surrounded by gaming enthusiasts, and obsessed with the idea of life being more like science fiction. In Zack’s mind, his dull life needs to turn around by virtue of a fantastic, straight-outta-his-favourite-video-game-called-Armada, event.
And one day, Zack’s wishes come true. He spots a UFO during a school day that is an exact replica of a battleship from Armada. The idea of the game is that the player has to protect the Earth from alien invaders. Zack is one of the best players there is – in fact, his handle IronBeagle is in the top ten. Number one is the mysterious RedJive, whom nobody has ever managed to beat. But everyone knows Armada is pure fiction, right? And Zack’s late father’s journals that tell a crazy tale of videogames being some sort of a battle camp that prepare you for a real war are just that – crazy. Right?
Zack’s excellent video gaming skills are, after all, going to be valuable in the real world. Turns out his father wasn’t that far off, and now the world needs Zack and everyone else in the top ten to defend the Earth from extraterrestial intelligence, as seen in Armada. But can Zack save the humanity from an interplanetary war? And even if a gang of plucky gamer geeks can somehow manage to “play their way” out of it, how do they know that Armada isn’t more dangerous than anyone realises?
I loved Ready Player One. Ernest Cline’s debut novel was one of the scariest, most interesting and most “fanboyish” books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. So needless to say, I had quite high expectations for “Armada” and have been waiting for it to come out. And while it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece like RPO, it didn’t let me down. In some ways, the reader can sense the elements RPO is riddled with – references to numerous sci-fi and fantasy things (I knew a lot more about stuff referenced in “Armada” than in “RPO” – I’m a 90s kid), young lad with a superhero name dreaming to save the world, a badass female love interest, and villain-y authority figures. In other words, “Armada” is quite tropey. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad sci-fi – just that it contains quite a few tropes from many other well-known science fiction works.
The writing in “Armada” was slightly less atmospheric than in Ready Player One, but then again, “Armada’s” overall plot is not the same as in “RPO”, despite all the similarities between the two books I just listed. In his debut novel, Cline has built an amazing world inspired by video games and 80s pop-culture, whereas in “Armada”, these elements serve more as MacGuffins, backdrops and props to move the story along, and thereby, less descriptive writing was required. The action sequences were quite decent, as was the witty banter and emotional relationships between the characters.
Essentially, “Armada” is a love letter to everything fictional and “geek things”. I have in mind a close friend of mine who would love it and would probably smile at all the references, especially since some of his favourite people make a cameo at one point. However, I am more of a fantasy geek/nerd than a sci-fi fan, even though I love me some aliens, so I didn’t fangirl as much as some people probably have upon seeing the references. I’m not much of a gamer, I didn’t like “Ender’s Game”, I didn’t like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, and I’ve never seen “Star Wars” (yes I am that person), so I am probably the wrong audience for “Armada”.
It sounds as though I’m basing this review on how different/similar “Armada” is to “RPO”. Unfortunately, in this case it was inevitable, and given how much I loved “RPO”, all I can say is that I’m hoping to read more of Cline in the future, but I don’t know how well it’ll measure against the gem that is “Ready Player One” that’s arguably already becoming a cult classic. My rating of “Armada” is 6.5/10.
You might like “Armada” if you liked:
“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card
“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline
“Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke
Have you read any of Ernest Cline’s books? Which one did you like better? Do let me know in the comments! 🙂