I’m a big fan of Ready Player One, especially the version read by Wi Wheaton. So I knew right away that I wanted to listen to his narration of Armada. (I bought it right away when I got my Audible account, and then saved it.) Ernest Cline obviously loves video games and the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, and the ‘90’s too. The amount of pop culture he includes in his books is impressive.
For some reason, I thought this was written way before it was. Ready Player One was published in 2010, and Armada in 2015. Well, I guess that reason is the amount of throwback pop culture references. Armada takes place in 2018, so slightly in the future from when it was published. (I should have realized it was fairly recent due to the “Leroy Jenkins” he threw in there!)
Zack Lightman is a high school senior two months out from graduation. While gazing out the window during class, he sees something that freaks him out – a glaive fighter, one of the alien spaceships from his favorite video game Armada. He worries that he’s going crazy, a suspicion brought on by the disturbing notes he found in his late father’s notebook. Zack’s father died when he was 10 months old, and Zack has basically been living in the pop culture left behind by his dad. One of the notebooks has a conspiracy theory that all alien pop culture – movies, books, and video games – is the government’s way of preparing the world’s civilian population for an alien invasion. Zack thinks this was a sign of his father going off the rails, and it may be hereditary if Zack is seeing UFO’s during math class. That is, until a spaceship arrives on the school lawn the next morning, and he is called by name to join the EDA, or Earth Defense Alliance. The same organization in his favorite video game, where he is ranked number 6 in the world standings.
Zack is taken to a secret base where he is briefed on the situation, along with a bunch of other civilian recruits. They are told a story about aliens living on Jupiter’s moon Europa who are planning an attack on Earth, which Zack finds immediately suspicious, but at one point he seems almost brainwashed into the “correct” response. They are also told that the aliens will be attacking in less than eight hours, but oops, it’s now. Zack kicks ass for the most part, but disobeys orders which leads to a lot of damage. He is told he has one more chance, but is allowed to keep fighting because they need him. (I’m sure a later plot point will be him having to make the decision to obey orders and stop fighting or go ahead and go after an enemy to save the day.) (I mean, kind of, but not in the way I was expecting.)
So the story goes along, and everything seems well in the realm of standard sci-fi/video game storylines. And then Cline goes a bit more hardcore than I was expecting. In Ready Player One, the stakes were high. But here, stakes are deadly. I should have expected that, I suppose. He knows all the tropes, so he lures you in with them and then whams you with something else.
And then the end is weird. I guess it leaves room for a sequel. The whole book is well-suited for a movie, more so than Ready Player One, I think, so hopefully they’ll do a better job of it.
The book got some not-great reviews, but I enjoyed it, and I don’t even play video games. Are there things that don’t make sense? Yes. (Mainly magical hacking skills.) Does that detract from the enjoyment of the book? Not really. I think a lot of my enjoyment of Armada and Ready Player One came from the performance by Wil Wheaton. Not having background knowledge in a lot of the things that Cline is referencing, I kind of rely on Wil Wheaton’s enthusiasm to get the point across. If you are a fan of gaming and the music Cline references, or alien invasion stories, then you’ll have a good time. I did!
This fulfills the CBR11 Bingo square of “Reading the TBR”