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Book Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

3 Oct

It was over two years ago that I bought this book. I was in Chicago for a conference and my bookstore exploring found me a signed copy of Armada right after I’d read and enjoyed Ready Player One. I was ready for some more Cline in my life. But then, of course, things got in the way and it’s only now that I’m getting to this one. I actually enjoyed both the ebook and audiobook of this one since my hold returned the ebook before I could finish it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Armada by Ernest Cline

Other books by Ernest Cline reviewed on this blog:

Ready Player One (5/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

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?

That’s one heck of a description, huh? The description of this book made it sound like a cross between Ender’s Game and War Games and even after finishing it, I would make that comparison. The writing was great, much like Cline’s other novel, but it didn’t seem to be as original an idea as his first book. Honestly, I may have liked this one more if it hadn’t been the second Cline I read. I had super high expectations and while this was good, it wasn’t great.

Because of the compressed time frame, I felt most of the characters were really flat. Even Zack didn’t develop too much. There was a lot made about his anger issues, but they seemed to fizzle out with little notice when the plot got going. This was definitely a plot-driven novel and the characters really took a back seat.

There wasn’t a singular character I felt any attachment to. I liked Lex, but only because she was fun and quirky. I didn’t care too much what happened to her. Zack’s mom was likable but didn’t have much of a role. Xavier was hard to figure out and seemed both insane and reliable which made him hard to trust. With how flat I felt Zack was, I didn’t attach too much to a character in this book.

Their experiences were too unique for me to feel very attached to anyone, either. I was never super into video games so I didn’t relate to that culture and I’ve obviously not been a part of an alien invasion effort, so that was hard to sympathize with, too.

Ernest Cline
Image via

I was most interested in the interplay between Zack and his father. I’m not sure what I thought of it, though. I figured it would either be ‘well, you’re still a total stranger’ where they’d be super skeptical of each other, or ‘long lost loving father!’ and they’d be inseparable. It was neither of those and I found it interesting to see when they started to trust one another.

This is minimal, but it really bothered me that Zack’s mom had another baby. How fertile is this woman that she gets pregnant when she’s not even trying after being with her husband for 2 hours? It was too convenient and not necessary to the plot of the book. I think it should have been left out.

I listened to the second half of this book after enjoying the beginning as an ebook. Wil Wheaton narrated the audio and I thought he did well. He put slight accents on for the other soldiers and it was enough to tell them apart without it being distracting. I’d heard he was really good at narrating Ready Player One but that was an ebook for me. I’m glad I finally got to hear it!

Xavier and Zack had to be brave to speak out. When they did, it was still hard and then had to take things into their own hands. The information that Xavier gained access to wasn’t supposed to be available to everyone but having it changed everything. I think Cline’s point was about freedom of information, but more about not being afraid to speak up when you need to. For Zack, it saved the world.

Writer’s Takeaway: Cline’s writing is great for people the age of his character but also for the generation before that. His inclusion of 80s and 90s references is always welcome for those who remember them, but not so overwhelming as to put off someone who doesn’t. That’s what readers loved about his first book and while not as strong here, they’re still fun.

This book was fun, but I had high expectations. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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