I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Armada by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishing on July 14th 2015
Genres: Sci-Fi, Young Adult
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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.
Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.
No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.
It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?
At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.
Hello there everybody! Today I’m going to ramble on at you about Armada by Ernest Cline, a book I was hugely, hugely anticipating because I loved the shit out of Ready Player One. When I announced on twitter I was starting it, a handful of people seemed quite interested in my verdict which is: I don’t actually know. I had a ton of fun reading it but as the relentless pop culture high wears off and it sinks into my brain, there are things that don’t totally sit right with me. I’m not ready to say I didn’t like it or wouldn’t recommend it buuuuuuuut, like I said, I don’t know.
Never fear! That’s what pro/con lists are for. I’ll tell you guys things and you decide for yourself. Sound good? Awesome.
Pro: I’m probably going to say this many times over, Armada is so much fun to read. It didn’t have the omg-I-can’t-put-this-down-so-I’m-going-to-stay-up-all-night-reading-because-fuck-being-a-functional-human-tomorrow-priorities magic of Ready Player One but it was still a grand old adventure. Zack, the main character/narrator has the kind of snarky, self-deprecating kind of internal monologue I respond to like whoa. He’s so gleefully enthusiastic about gaming and pop culture and that is 100% my kind of nerd (I love and relate to people who throw themselves entirely into the things they love, I also don’t know how to like things like a normal person).
Con: Armada never pretends to be anything other than a gamer fantasy and while I was willing to roll with that while I was reading it, as the book sinks into my brain it becomes a bit flimsy and shallow. With the exception of the veeeeery very end, the book never goes deeper than the initially presented premise (aliens are invading, the government has known for years and been using video games to secretly recruit from the population SURPRISE THERE WAS A POINT TO ALL THOSE HOURS YOU LOGGED PLAYING [INSERT GAME HERE] AND NOW YOU’RE GOING TO USE THOSE SKILLS TO SAVE THE WORLD), which could be considered hugely ironic given Zack is often pointing out the plot holes and thin premises of various scifi movies and video games. It is possible that this is meant to show that Armada is aware of its flaws and doesn’t give a shit, which, cool, except it didn’t really seem to pull that as far as I’m concerned.
Pro: RELENTLESS POP CULTURE TRIVIA FUN TIMES. Who needs a twisty plot, multi-dimensional characters and complex themes when you could have nostalgia overload and endless references and quippy, determined nerds saving the world, ammirite?
Con: Weeeellllllll, again, this is something that didn’t start to bother me until later but it turns out I can’t get by on banter and pop culture alone (I was legit surprised to learn this about myself, apparently I have more layers than I thought. Yay me!) I can’t actually tell you what motivates any of the characters beyond ALIENS ARE INVADING AND MY FAV VIDEO GAME TOLD ME TO FIGHT SO HERE I AM READY FOR BATTLE. Sure, some of them mention their families in passing but who are you? What do you want? Why do I care? This makes it hard to ultimately give a shit and this was made extremely apparent when people started dying and I’m sitting there like whomp whomp, oh well.
Pro: While we are on the topic of characters, I quite loved the ragtag group of gamers cobbled together throughout the book. While none of them were particularly developed (with the exception of Zack and, to a lesser extent, his dad) the constant banter worked for me and they made for deeply entertaining set dressing and plot vehicles. I award ALL THE BONUS POINTS IN THE UNIVERSE for including Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson (I was so excited when Carl showed up, I literally screamed and threw the book) (I deeply, deeply love Carl Sagan). Additional points awarded for diverse nationalities and sexualities presented, though I hesitate to call it actual representation because that would imply it was more than a passing mention but most of the characterization beyond Zack’s was a passing mention, so, there’s that.
Con: There is a noticeable lack of female characters (5 with names to be more or less exact) (you know what, 4, I can’t remember the name of Zack’s ex girlfriend and she’s basically a sentence anyway) and while that’s super not awesome, what really bothered me was how the book treated the lady characters it had. Of the four ladies, Zack’s mom (again, can’t remember her name, but that’s on my brain not the book, she definitely had a name and it was used over and over) and Lex were super hot, super cool, super badass, totally into Zack (Zack’s mom in an I-am-a-cool-mom-and-love-and-support-my-son kind of way, no Oedipal shit happening here) aaaaaaaaaand that’s pretty much it. I was incredibly fond of Zack’s mom (though not enough to remember her name apparently) because she reminded me a lot of Melissa McCall from Teen Wolf but I think that’s like 98% me projecting than actual characterization. Lex, on the other hand, pissed me the fuck off. Yes, she was awesome and badass, but she seemed to exist solely as the prize in the crackerjack box because obviously every hero is awarded a super hot, super cool, sexually compatible companion upon saving the world and not because, you know, she was an awesome and badass person. There was a single scene of relationship development where they watched a presentation together and she was super impressed by his game rank and then suddenly she’s grabbing Zack and making out with him. The whole ‘YOLO IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD’ concept only goes so far and this ship was less ship-shaped and more a flashy looking pile of floating debris.
Con: After a series of dramatic speeches, build up and detailed battle scenes, the climax felt kind of abrupt and a bit of a let down. This book isn’t trying to be surprising or twisty (I predicted literally every twist and I am absolute garbage at predicting twists). Armada seems to take great pride in being all the tropes and archetypes mashed into one, and while I was willing to go along with that because classic storytelling tricks are often classic for a reason, by the time I got to the end I realized I was hoping for something more. I was also deeply unimpressed with the climax fallout and last chapter View Spoiler » which was basically a series of paragraphs that may as well have read AND THEN THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER THE END. Spoiler tags because that gives away the outcome of the epic battle though I don’t think it’s possible to read this book and not know from page one that Zach’s going to save the day « Hide Spoiler.
I worry that this is coming across like the cons outweigh the pros and I would like to stress again, Armada is a really fun book to read, you just kind of have to dial your critical brain down a notch. Or turn it off entirely, I don’t know how critical your brain is. I enjoyed it but it’s not touching Ready Player One and I’ll probably reserve recommending it for specific people I know will love that kind of thing and are cool with total suspension of disbelief and cynicism (unlike Ready Player One, which, while imperfect, is much more awesome and you should all check it out).