Last year I reviewed Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my hyped-up expectations. I found his follow-up novel at a used bookstore and decided to give this author another chance. Would I discover the same problems that I had with Cline’s first novel or would this prove to be the author’s salvation in my eyes? Sadly, it falls more into the first category. I struggled to finish this one, even stopping halfway through to the point of abandonment to read something else. Eventually I picked it back up but found the second half to be as unrewarding as the first.
Zack Lightman is your typical teenager. He spends his free time playing video games and watching science fiction movies. Sure he gets into trouble sometimes for his anger issues, but those are most likely caused by the death of his father when he was just a baby. Zack is a dreamer at heart and wishes that life could be more like the fantasy and science fiction worlds where he likes to spend most of his time. Then one day while daydreaming in class, he sees a giant spaceship up in the sky.
Not only does Zack see an alien craft, but this ship looks exactly like an enemy ship from his favorite video game, the hugely popular flight simulator game called Armada. In this game which has sold millions, players have to protect the Earth from hostile alien invaders. As it turns out, this game was designed to help prepare fighters for the real alien invasion that is on its way. Zack also learns that this goes way beyond Armada, as the government has been secretly developing all of those science fiction books, movies, and games to help find the best of the best to stop this alien invasion. Zack Lightman is finally getting his wish to be the hero he always dreamed of becoming!
You would think that I would have loved this book. As with Ready Player One, Cline references numerous science fiction books and movies from my youth. Obviously, this book is meant to be taken as a fun tribute to movies like Flight of the Navigator and The Last Starfighter. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the fact that the whole setup is so ridiculous. Not only is the premise predictable and cheesy but it’s badly written cheesy. Armada feels like a retread of Cline’ first novel, pages of exposition followed by pages of pop culture references. The whole thing feels like a piece of fan fiction rather than a serious novel.
As far as the plot goes, I grew bored with it quickly. There are a few surprise plot twists, but I used the term “surprise” loosely because I saw those plot points coming from miles away. I was hoping that there would be a true shocker, something that I hadn’t predicted. However, there is not as the book basically unfolds as I expected. It’s been some time since I finished this one as I like to take time to think about what I’ve read in order to process what I liked versus what I hated. I then started to question my reading tastes. Have I become (gasp) a book snob? Has my judgement been clouded from all the “higher” literature I’ve read?
After careful consideration, my thoughts are that I would have hated this even back in the day. I love science fiction with a passion and always will for the rest of my life. This just wasn’t a good book for me. I don’t even know if I would call it a fair tribute to 80’s science fiction.
One of my major problems with Cline is that his books feel like there should be some type of introspection into why nerds like me are drawn into these fantastically created fictional worlds. The pop culture of the 80’s and 90’s was so important in my development as a person. I never feel like we get there with this author. Ready Player One felt totally lacking in this area. There was a moment where I thought Armada was going to hit me hard with some philosophical discussion but it never happened. Once again we manage to avoid going into any depth and instead just immerse into nostalgia. Sorry Ernest Cline. You’ve gotten me twice now. I must move on from you.
Overall, there were moments of fun mixed with some painfully mad dramatic moments.
“I’d spent my entire life overdosing on uncut escapism, willingly allowing fantasy to become my reality.”