Armada by Ernest Cline (5 out of 5)
I read Ernest’s first book, Ready Player One, and loved it for its relentless pursuit of fun, 1980’s pop culture references, and I tore through that book in a few days. Armada was sent to me a while ago by Jessica at Crown Publishing (Thank You, Jessica!) after I had emailed someone else at Penguin Random House to try to get a copy in advance. My coworker Dan read it and gave it 6 stars on a scale of 5. I rate this 5 out of 5, but would have rated Ready Player One 6 out of 5, so Dan and I are on reverse sides of this book reviewing system. Dan is also a huge fan of the movie The Last Starfighter, whose references litter this book like I loiter at Starbucks. I need to re-watch that classic cinema piece again, and I’m sure some of those many references will make a lot more sense to me. Anyway, I liked this book a lot but I didn’t like it as much as Ready Player One. Why? The funny thing is, I can’t even name it. There’s something missing here that was in the debut. I think it was more the feeling of the unknown. I was also deeply into World Of Warcraft for a few years, and a lot of Ready Player One reminded me of my WOW years, which were a ton of fun(as well as a ton of futility, because a level 57 troll is all I was destined to be, sadly). Maybe that’s why it resonated more with me, and Armada resonated more with Dan. AGAIN, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I loved it, I just didn’t love it as much as Cline’s first novel. I also felt like something was missing, some key ingredient that I couldn’t put my finger on, and when that happens with me, something disconnects a little bit. I thought Cline was going to take the ending one way, and he took it another way, and I really appreciated that. Had he taken it the ending I thought he was heading for, it would have knocked my review rating down to 3 stars. Happily, not the case. If you’re a gamer or even fashioned yourself to be one in the 80’s, this is like a little love note to that. If you were a fan of alien movies like Aliens and Close Encounters of The Third Kind (I raise my hand), this is a sonnet of undying adoration to that. If you were a fan of any sort of nostalgia and having to grow up and leave some of that behind when shit called life got real, well, this is like the minister reading those marriage vows to you at the altar. I loved it, I’ll recommend it, I would love to have a poster of that awesome cover so I can hang it on my living room wall, and you will not be disappointed in this roller coaster video game simulation at all. Or, if you are, it’s likely to be one or two minute details that derail the love train. But don’t let it force the train off the rails- buckle yourself in tight, and stay for the ride!
Zack Lightman is a dreamer. He’s also a diehard gamer, entranced (like most of the gaming world) by ARMADA, a popular online flight simulator game. The main goal of ARMADA is to protect Planet Earth from alien invaders. He thinks he’s seeing things when he sees one of the alien ships that are featured in the game following him. GUESS WHAT, KIDS? Not imagining it! Not only that, but they need him- Zack!-along with the other top gamers in the world, to help the EDA (a semi shadowy operation in itself) defeat an imminent alien invasion. Everything about the scenario, including the ships in which they are fighting the Europans (the name of the alien race that is fighting for domination over the entire world), is eerily reminiscent to everything he’s ever been exposed to, in his games and movies. Zack gets quite a few shocks along with the overall shock that the game is reality…his boss as Starbase Ace is really one of the head guys in the EDA and part of the mission to recruit all the gamers to help ward off the invasion….the sarcastic gamer chick who’s an ace gamer in TERRA FIRMA (an equally important game as ARMADA, in regards to those avid gamers assisting in fending off the aliens) and whom he ends up falling for at first sight..his long-presumed father is NOT dead, but had been recruited, same as Zack was just recruited, to help out with this mission many years ago..the poor kid has some adjusting to do. He seems to do so, and amazingly well. Zack bonds with the rest of his team, and they prepare to try to ward off three different waves of aliens coming to take control. However, after the first wave has decimated pretty much everything, Zack’s father confides in him about some anomalies in what the EDA has told the recruits, and what his father believes is really going on. That’s where the gray area began for me. It lost a bit of speed for me because some of the things that went down in between Zack being assigned to Moon Base Alpha and the first wave of the invasion felt clichéd and a bit forced. Again, a bit is NOT a shit ton, not enough to write the book off without giving it a chance. The payoff from that point to the end? Absolutely fucking worth it. Every page. High concept at parts? Absolutely- but it has to be to be relevant. Emotionally draining and gut wrenching? Several parts throughout the book- absolutely. Destruction and death? Absolutely. And not because Cline sets out to have an Alien/Human Demolition Derby, but because he has to do so to remain true to the plot. Had he gone in a different direction, well, it wouldn’t have been true to the overall narrative and the arc of the game itself, and that’s a HUGE part of the plot. There isn’t a lot to diss here, friends. Overall, my qualm with it was that some of it felt like a lot of cliché and only a little bit of unique. That was done away with quickly. Would I recommend this? Yes. A hundred times yes. Did I make an Ernie Cline Spotify playlist? Not yet- but it’s coming! You’ll have an outstanding time with this book, so shut the hell up and go pick up a copy! It was released yesterday (Tuesday, July 14, 2015) and is brought to us by Crown Publishing (an imprint of Penguin Random House).