Armada by Ernie Cline

After what feels like years of waiting, Armada by Ernie Cline hit bookshelves across the country last week. I am a MASSIVE fan on his début novel, Ready Player One, with it’s 80s and 90s gaming, movie and pop culture references, all set in a future crafted in a online world known as Oasis. This novel caught the imagination of the reading and gaming community, going on to win the 2012 Prometheus Award and is even being adapted to the silver screen, directed by none other than Steven Spielberg. In other words, Armada has a lot to live up to!

Zack Lightman is ranked the 5th best player in the world in one of the most popular computer games of 2018, Armada. In that respect he’s taken after him father, who passed away in an accident when he was just a baby. Growing up, Zack immersed himself in his father’s belongings, finding solace in his music and video games.

He stares out of the window during another mindless lesson at school, only to find himself gazing at a space ship, a space ship he knows very well. The craft he sees hovering beside the school looks exactly like one of the ships from Armada. Soon the truth is unveiled and Zack discovers he’s not just a great gamer but he’s been taught to defend the planet from an alien threat and the world’s greatest gamers might just be Earth’s last chance for survival.

As with Ready Player One, Armada is packed with gaming and movie references, a large part of the plot also takes place within a game. Sadly this is where I will leave the positive comparisons. Where the references were woven into the plot of Ready Player One, here they seem to be used as direct influence. Within the pages of Armada these references are constantly used as comparison for current situations in the story, but what this highlights is the books lack of new ideas. As Zack compares his life to Star Wars, Ender’s Game, Flight of the Navigator and other cult sci-fi classics it simply highlights how this book has none of the uniqueness that made those pieces great.
A very large percentage of the novel is made up of ‘in-game’ play or remote piloting. This was especially heavy in the first third of the novel and the final battles but due to the remoteness of the war games it is very hard to buy in to the supposed tension of the situation, knowing full well the gamer can just get into another plane if they are shot down.

After finishing the novel I could not help but ponder on who it was truly aimed at. The language and style it contains gives it the air or being aimed at teenagers (as most of it’s obvious influences were) but today’s teenagers would be far too young to appreciate most of the references. It certainly left me feeling as if I had read a book that wasn’t aimed at me but as I am what many would call a ‘geek’ (way before it was a term of endearment) who loves books, who else is it aimed at?

I have a number of other quibbles with the book, the predictability of the plot featuring his father, Zack’s unrealistic reaction to an incident where he may have accidentally killed a number of people but still gets rather stroppy about his point of view and I could go on but instead instead I’m going to try and forget I ever read it.

If you haven’t read Ready Player One, then please do but if you have read it and are hoping for more of the same fun in Armada, you’re going to be disappointed.

Buy your copy of Armada from Amazon here.

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