*I received my copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Author: Ernest Cline
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe. And then he sees the flying saucer.
I only just finished Ready Player One a few weeks back and I couldn’t help but think that it was perfect timing that Armada released just weeks after my first encounter with Ernest Cline. After how much I loved Cline’s first novel, this coincidence was just perfect. I had no idea Armada was coming out and I was overjoyed to discover that I could read even more of Cline’s imaginative pop-culture driven worlds. Armada combines the tech savvy, 1980s pop-culture references that I loved in Ready Player One with the creativity of a futuristic gaming world and pairs it with the threat of invasion by an ultra advanced technological alien race.
It’s hard for me to not compare the two novels, first because of their many similarities and second, because I’m reading them so close together. My favour falls with Clines debut novel, although Armada did hold it’s own. Right off the bat, I preferred Zack Lightman to Wade. Armada‘s protagonist is a totally relatable teenage boy. He’s lost his father and he’s angry about it. He’s got a deep rooted need to know the man who’s belongings remained packed away in the attic since his passing.Through video games, music, movies, and other various 80s culture, Zack tries to understand the man that was his father just a little bit better. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life, so he spends his time gaming or working at the video game store. Zack has some mad skill when it comes to the video game “Armada.” He’s ranked in the top 10 in the entire world. Despite his skills, he struggles with anger issues. Injustice, bullying, and insolence infuriate him. He fears the loss of control that his anger brings, but he struggles to let the emotion just flow past him. He seemed so essentially human that it was impossible not to like him.
Zack’s life changes when he sees an alien space craft moving across the horizon. The space craft looks suspiciously like the alien ships from the game “Armada.” This sighting thrusts Zack into a world that he previously could have only imagined. Not only does he find himself in the centre of a war, he becomes a high ranking lieutenant based on his gaming scores. All along he though he was playing “Armada” recreationally, but in reality he was training and preparing himself for military recruitment.
My greatest criticism for Cline’s new novel is that I found the passages describing the military equipment and the battle scenes to be quite technical and tedious. I felt a little disconnected during these scenes because I couldn’t visualize the war. It’s hard to stay interested when you can’t imagine what’s going on. I’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know what a battle with aliens might look like, so I could piece things together in my head, but I don’t like to rely on previous knowledge to understand a new story. I want the story I’m reading to show me exactly how it’s world operates in a way that I can understand and easily imagine. Unfortunately with Armada, I just couldn’t visualize the battle scenes. Because the novel is largely comprised of battle scenes, I couldn’t connect with this story in the same way I could with Ready Player One.
I also found that Armada took a little too much inspiration from Scott Orson Card’s Ender’s Game. That moment where the gamers realize that the video game is actually real and that they’d just fought an intense intergalactic battle, too closely paralleled the scene in Ender’s Game where the trainees realize that the simulation was not a simulation at all, but in fact they’d just waged war and killed thousands. The entire time I was reading, I couldn’t get Ender’s Game out of my head. While I love Cline’s style and his ideas, it’s bothersome to be reading a book and all you can think is, “this has been done before.” While this same argument can be made in many cases with many stories (there are only a finite number of plot lines in the world so of course we’re going to see many similar tales), I would have liked to see greater variation on Cline’s part.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed Armada. Cline brings the same sense of wit to his characters, even in times of great intensity. He builds strong, imaginative worlds. Ready Player One continues to hold that special place in my heart as my favourite Cline novel, but Armada does a good job of presenting a pretty awesome sci-fi world. I fully recommend that you go out and pick up a copy of either of Cline’s books because he’s got a great talent for creating heart-stopping stories full of beloved pop-culture references. There’s never a dull moment in his stories!