Ernest Cline has a lot going for him: His first major novel (Ready Player One) was a huge success, it is being turned into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, and he is getting a screenwriting credit. Cline’s follow up to Ready Player One is Armada. In the simplest of terms, it’s the story of some nerds who try to save the world.
Like Ready Player One, Armada is a story largely told through nerd culture references from the 1970s to the present. However, while RPO largely benefitted from gaming and nerd mythology as its plot driver, Armada suffers and gets lost in its nerdy references. Gaming was the backdrop of RPO but a crutch in Armada. Unfortunately for the reader, Cline seems almost afraid to tell an original story or write an original line of dialogue. In Armada, characters speak almost entirely in references or quotes. While some people do talk like this, it’s very distracting for the reader and somewhat frustrating for fans of Cline.
The book is best when Cline’s original characters have original interactions, thoughts, and dialogue. Buried beneath references to nearly anything related to sci-fi pop culture is a tender, bittersweet story and an interesting discussion of what technology does to us as individuals and a culture. Unfortunately, Cline has hidden his original work below the neon lights and blippy music of other pop culture touchstones.
Criticism aside, the audiobook is worth the listen for sci-fi fans. Wil Wheaton’s reading of the book lends a certain realism and excellence to Cline’s characters that otherwise would not be there. Three of five stars.