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?
At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.
I’ve posted a couple of photos online of my reading progress and the most common questions I’ve gotten have been:
- Did you read Ready Player One (RP1)?
- Is this better than RP1?
To which I say: Yes, I did read RP1. And yes, in my mind, this book is better….but, I don’t have the kind of nerd hero-worship that exists around RP1. It is an entertaining book. It has lots of nerdy references. The characters are funny and exchange clever dialogue. There are great action sequences.
If that is your threshold for a good book, then congrats – you have nothing to worry about. You will like Armada as well. But the devil’s in the details, so here we go.
I found the stakes to be much higher in Armada – global invasion will do that for you – and I thought that overall, the characters felt more real. There are some moments that feel forced (a big meet-and-greet with several players is especially stilted). Some of the twists are so trope-laden it would have been more daring to go in the opposite direction, and I would love, love to read the version of this novel that’s all about hacker bad-ass Lex. Give the people (or just me) what we (I) want!
(Granted, Lex feels a little…deus ex machina-y at times, but that’s why I want more of her. She’s jailbreaking reverse-engineered alien tech all the damn time. I’d love a short story’s that’s just “Lex jailbreaks the patriarchy” and gives her more depth and dimension, because the potential is there.)
The novel alternates between being another love letter to nerd culture and being derivative. The former is when it works well, and the latter when it falls flat.
Several reviews I’ve seen have noted concerns with the plot and climax. I didn’t share those concerns, and felt the book built up fairly well. There are some moments that feel particularly heavy-handed, but this wasn’t one of them, at least for me. And Cline’s final pages seem to strongly suggest sequel potential, which, again – more Lex, please. Let’s have a lady protagonist this time.
In many ways, Armada is like a summer blockbuster – entertaining and action-packed. Of course there are a quiet moments, for contrast, pacing, and character development (we don’t all have the chops/cojones to pull off Mad Max: Fury Road). But overall, it’s a good popcorn read.
(Literally. I read this while eating a bowl of popcorn yesterday.)
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I selected the book based on my own preference, and all opinions are my own.