& Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada by Ernest Cline. Publisher: Crown Publishing

Armada by Ernest Cline. Publisher: Crown Publishing

The Book Itself: Very vintage video game with the cover. And the green triangles are used throughout the story to signify enemies.

My Review: For those of you who enjoy any kind of television show or fandom, and haven’t read Cline’s first book Ready Player One, stop reading this right now and go read it. I will send you my copy. Just do it.

Ready Player One is a wonderful, nerdy, thrilling, action-packed read. Imagine Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka were one person. Imagine Steve Wonka then revolutionized the way we go to school and work by creating a massive online virtual reality universe where everyone goes to escape the real world (in its third decade of economic collapse). Then Steve Wonka dies. And leaves his entire fortune and company to whoever can find the Easter eggs he buried in this massive virtual reality, and follow the scavenger hunt that follows.

No one finds the first clue for five years. Then our hero, Wade Watts, all of ­­­­­eighteen years old, does.

As an indication of how good it is: I gave a copy to my younger brother (not a big reader). And he read it in a day. I came across him in the wee hours of the morning flipping pages, with that crazed look on his face, saying “I have to finish reading it!”

Now that I’ve bullied you into reading a book you’re not even sure you want to read yet, I’m going to segway right into talking about Cline’s second book, Armada. Don’t worry, you won’t have to have read Ready Player One to understand or appreciate this one (but please still do).

Armada is in the same nerdy vein as Ready Player One. We’ve got our young, nerdy protagonist, kind of stuck in life, working at a video game store. This time, the video game of choice is Armada, a shoot-the-aliens-before-they-destroy-Earth kind of deal. He’s good at it: top ten in the world good.

Turns out the aliens are real. Their threat to Earth is real. And Zack Lightman is one of the best hopes for humanity’s survival.

No pressure, or anything.

Reading Armada is like coming home again to the world of Ready Player One (although, again, you do not need to read one before the other). You can tell Ernest Cline is just a great big geek, stuffing as many references to nerd-dom – Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Buckaroo Banzai, World of Warcraft, etc. etc. etc. – into his books as he can, and relishing the idea that fellow nerds are connecting to each other through these worlds. It’s tough to keep up with the references. I’m a fangirl of several franchises myself, but the sheer number of robots, monsters, technology, and even fandom-inspired tattoos boggled my mind. It could trip someone up, not knowing what a song sounds like or what a fighting killer robot looks like on sheer mention alone. The idea is that you look it up and get hooked on another series, I’m sure.

Once Zack Lightman learns of his fate (and the fate of the entire world, should he fail), the book takes off on one trippy rollercoaster. It’s an interesting, if rather hollow idea: the government has been preparing us for the real alien invasion through alien movies, video games, and TV shows because they know the threat is real and coming to get us. I don’t think that would really lessen the blow any. Sure, it’d be nice if everyone accepted it and rallied together to fight those alien baddies, but I think the reality would be more like widespread panic and lots of destruction.

But this is a hero tale, so say it with me: aliens and video games are real!

Zack is zipped along to training camp, a military base to prepare for the attack, and then finally to the fight (the final boss, if you will). You don’t get a lot of breathing room. Which is fine. It’s completely appropriate for the idea here: aliens are coming, don’t waste time on every person’s backstory and character arc! But you are introduced to lots of people, very quickly (and then a lot of those newbies die – sorry, it’s the apocalypse. That happens).

Not to say that the characters don’t gut you. I found this one to be much more tug-at-your-heartstrings than Ready Player One. The stakes are ratcheted higher, more quickly here. You know people are going to die and seeing the way they interact with each other before it all goes down is very powerful.

My biggest problem is *sigh* the ending. It’s all wrapped up so fast; I had to re-read the last thirty pages, I was so shocked it ended the way it did. I knew it was coming. I saw the meager amount of pages left before the book would be over, and knew that it was not enough for everything to get a nice little bow on it. But you get whiplash from the abrupt stop. It ends too easy. Is that really it? I remember thinking. So…is there going to be a sequel, then? Whether there is or not, it’s clumsy in its full-stop conclusion. We’ve fallen for these characters: we need a more powerful finish.

All in all, Armada is an excellent, geeky-fun read, with some powerful emotion behind some of its characters and motives. I’d still give the crown to Ready Player One, but fans will love returning to the name-dropping, ass-kicking spirit of Armada’s predecessor.

My Grade: B+

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