I listened to Armada, narrated by Wil Wheaton. Wil Wheaton can make an ok book into a great listen. (Thanks, Natalie!)
I am glad I put some space between Ready Player One and Armada. RP1 is a masterpiece of nostalgia, while Armada trades in the same nostalgia, it’s less graceful. It’s impossible not to compare the two, however I think I put enough distance between them that my disappointments and delights are all related to this book on it’s own. Mostly. The central idea of the plot is interesting – video games have been developed to fight off an alien invasion. Players are trained to fight, and unbeknownst to them, are piloting drones in actual battles. I think the story would have been more enjoyable to me told with a lot less reference to 80’s games and movies. I am an 80’s kid, so I get the references, but it weighed the story down. But again, Wil Wheaton is a hell of a narrator and allowed me to slide right past these irritations.
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?
See, it’s a pretty interesting idea (even if it does borrow deliberately and heavily from The Last Starfighter and Tron). But somehow, I felt like Cline didn’t hit the sweet spot of reference and nostalgia. Instead of playing with our familiarity to move the plot forward, he points to each reference and tells you how it moves the plot forward. He also could have turned any number of scifi tropes on their head and turned out an amazing story.
My number one problem with Armada is the way it uses the Dad Back from the Dead trope without examining it at all. Zach’s father was thought dead for most of Zach’s life, but it turns out, he has been alive the whole time and living on the dark side of the Moon as part of the Earth Defense League. For a moment, I thought Cline was going to take it in an interesting direction by making Zach realize his father is a man-child, but after some thought, I think Cline created Zach’s father as his ideal father. And the one moment that ensured I won’t be revisiting this book again is the reunion between Zach’s parents. I really could have done without all of the daddy stuff.
Again, Wil Wheaton is a hell of a narrator and I still enjoyed listening to him tell the story.