Ernest Cline’s Armada is one of the most anticipated science fiction novels of this year after his popular Ready Player One charmed nerds and geeks everywhere after being re-released in 2014. I was able to get an advance copy of Armada from Cline himself while attending Book Expo America in New York City last month, and I skipped away like a kid at Christmas. Cline was nerdy and charming, and we talked about Star Wars, so my encounter with him was everything I was hoping it would be for less than 5 minutes. He even signed my book with “MTFBWYA,” which should be familiar to anyone who is a true Star Wars nerd.
Armada is similar to Ready Player One in that the main character is a video game loving, socially awkward teenage boy who gets pulled into a situation due to his mad video gaming skills. In fact, Zack Lightman, the main character in Armada, is so similar to Wade Watts that I wondered if Cline took the same character and changed his name (there is also a female love interest character for Lightman that will definitely remind you of Artemis). The book opens with Lightman sitting in class, staring out the window, wishing he was somewhere else. He spots a UFO landing in the schoolyard and quickly realizes that it’s the very same spaceship from his favorite video game, Armada. The spaceship flies away, and Lightman is left wondering if he’s losing his mind.
You soon learn that Lightman has a single mom because his dad was killed at the age of 19 in an accident at the sewage plant where he worked. Lightman, who is the spitting image of his father, is obsessed with learning more about his dad’s life, and he discovers a journal in the attic where his dad documented his own obsession: a crazy theory that the military has been secretly training the human race to fight aliens for years through mass media (movies, video games, TV shows, etc.).
Sound familiar yet? That’s because the plot of this book is unfortunately not very original. If you’ve read Ender’s Game or have seen the movie, I assume you can take a good guess as to where the rest of Armada goes.
Cline hits the reader over the head again and again with the fact that something about this situation just doesn’t seem right. Lightman is constantly questioning, both aloud and internally. This gave me hope that there had to be some kind of twist at the end of the book that would make it original and worthwhile. After reading Ready Player One, which took a few unoriginal concepts and added in 80s pop culture references and an amazing puzzle to make it into an original book, I was thinking that Cline was going to do the same thing with Armada. So, I read on, waiting for the twist. Unfortunately, the twist doesn’t deliver as I hoped it would. Yes, there is a twist at the end, but instead of making the book more original, it makes it fall flat.
Armada certainly delivers on Cline’s signature 80s pop culture references. It also includes some amazing fight scenes, both inside and outside the video game. The characters in the book are likable, and the theme of humanity coming together to fight invading aliens is well done. Although it’s a theme that is certainly unoriginal, this book is akin to Ready Player One in that it’s what I like to call a “popcorn” book. It’s a book that you read when you just need something fun – a palate cleanser, so to speak. If you love action packed science fiction books/movies where humans ban together to stave off invading aliens, you will love this book. If you go into it with the knowledge that the plot isn’t mind blowing, the 80s references aren’t quite as heavy as they were in Ready Player One, and with only the expectation that there are some good fight scenes and to just be entertained, you’ll be good to go.
My overall grade for this book is a B-. It’s worth reading if you like Ready Player One and Ender’s Game.