The new novel from the best-selling author of Ready Player One
It's just another day of high school for Zack Lightman. He's daydreaming through another boring math class, with just one more month to go until graduation and freedom - if he can make it that long without getting suspended again.
Then he glances out his classroom window and spots the flying saucer.
At first Zack thinks he's going crazy.
A minute later he's sure of it. Because the UFO 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.
But what Zack'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.
Yet even as he and his new comrades scramble to prepare for the alien onslaught, Zack can't help thinking of all the science-fiction books, TV shows, and movies he grew up reading and watching and wonder: Doesn't something about this scenario seem a little too...familiar?
Armada is at once a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming-of-age adventure, and an alien-invasion tale like nothing you've ever heard before - one whose every minute is infused with author Ernest Cline's trademark pop-culture savvy.
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I loved Ready Player One. Hated Armada
- Amazon Customer "I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important."
Do we really need this story?
Unfortunately for me, Armada fell flat; despite Wil Wheaton knocking it out of the park again in his reading (though there were some level issues between cuts). I would have hoped that Cline had grown as a writer after Ready Player One (RPO), but he seems to have ascribed to the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mantra. The problem is that approach doesn't work with writing unless you're going to continue an existing story.
Here are some of my issues:
1) First Person Narrative - This worked for RPO, but I think it actually hindered the story in Armada. Cline should have gone with a traditional 3rd person narrative, especially when your core audience consists of 30 and 40 somethings with a penchant for the nostalgic. Believe it or not, we can handle more than one narrative at a time. This would have allowed him to expand the story beyond just one character's experiences.
2) Weak Character Development - When the action spun up I found myself thinking, "Why do I even care about X that just happened to Y?" or "Who was Y again?" Some characters are out of the story just a quickly as they are introduced. At one point I didn't immediately tie a particular character to one that was introduced earlier in the book, and felt a bit perturbed when I realized it.
3) Forced Pop Culture - In RPO the pop culture references felt natural in the context of the story. In Armada it's like Cline was pulling them out of a hat and inserting them at random. Had the story been set in the 80s it might have worked better, but would have worsened the effect of my next point.
4) Far-Fetched Technology - The story is supposed to take place in not-too-distant future (a few years or so). However the story introduced technology for which I suspect there aren't even theories on how it would work (and thus he just glosses over them in the story). RPO gave him freedom because of the virtual nature of the world he painted. However, for Armada it just felt wrong.
5) Stereotypical Military - As a military brat the stereotypical way in which Cline represents the military is a pet peeve of mine. I already have a pretty good idea of Cline's social views thanks to his multi-page tirade at the beginning of RPO (which he thankfully did NOT do in Armada), but in Armada he pretty much gives a giant middle finger to the military and (for the most part) conservative thinking. I don't think Cline's trying to create Orwellian like discussions around his novels (and he's nowhere near as subtle as Orwell), so he's probably better off leaving his politics out of his books.
6) Impractical Hacking - This might seem a bit nitpicky, but as a software engineer by trade it bugs me when "hackers" are thrown into stories in unbelievable ways and become major a plot device. It's just lazy writing; especially in the time frame in which the story takes place.
In the end, Armada comes off as a mash up of a classic 80s book with a classic 80s sci-fi flick. The problem is we already have those stories and really didn't need to mash them up. Where RPO was a somewhat original tale, Armada felt like the recycled Hollywood garbage that has festered in movie theaters for the last two decades. So you have to ask yourself, "Do we really need this story?"