I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed Ernest Cline’s first book Ready Player One. So when given a chance to review his second book Armada I had to jump at the chance. I knew that there would be plenty of pop culture references and it seemed like a story I could have daydreamed about as a youngster. But would I would I enjoy it as much as Cline’s earlier book.
Zack Lightman is a troubled angry young man. As a baby his father died in a semi-embarrassing accident. And he has spent his life studying the man he really never met but loved video games and pop culture. His biggest joy in life is playing the space fighter style video game Armada where as a drone pilot he defends the Earth from alien invaders. But Zack worries as he begins to consider his future that the video game is making him question reality as he sees an alien ship hovering near his school. But in reality Zack discovers that the game is more fact than fiction. And Zack’s skills playing the video game make him a top recruit to defend the Earth in a decades long war. Is Zack daydreaming, crazy, or actually fighting for his life against an alien invader?
I’ll be blunt, Armada was a rough start for me. I actually put it down for a week to read a book about Disneyland and lawsuits. The slow part of me was Zack’s life before his “recruitment” as he went through his day-to-day routine and thought about the legacy of his father. Zack is obsessed with this dad. And as Zack’s reality begins to crumble he questions his own father as he discovers notes about a conspiracy from this father that is related to many of our favorite science fiction properties. And this book does a good job setting the reader up for some tension. Is Zack’s experience real or not? Is Zack mentally unhinged and we are looking at a Dangerous Mind situation. What leads to a lot of doubt is at times this story begins to really feel like Ender’s Game, The Last Starfighter and Iron Eagle combined. And this is a world that acknowledges those properties. So when they begin to feel really close to those stories, it luckily does not feel like a story lift but instead makes you question what Zack is experiencing. This is especially true since there is a lot of wish fulfillment that occurs. Seriously, he was a lowly high schooler with no prospects who begins an elite fighter pilot with no pilot training! How does one not question that?
Armada’s film rights were sold years ago. So I did find myself asking how would this do as a movie? I have mixed thoughts. I think that pop culture references will sell tickets to nostalgic middle-aged dudes like me. And you could really have fun with casting. For example, one character is based on Tom Skerrit’s Viper from Top Gun. And Skerrit even in his 80s could pull the role off today. So you could own it and cast him. Additionally, music is a huge part of this book, Iron Eagle style. If Guardians of the Galaxy has proven anything, music can make a movie and a movie can make music. So I think the “Raid the Arcade” mix has huge possibilities. I do have concerns with the ending, because I think it is relatively quiet, again much like Guardians of the Galaxy, and I do not know how well it would translate in a movie.
My final assessment of Armada is that it is a good book, but maybe not great. It, likely unfairly, will be compared to Ready Player One which was truly unique and caught everyone by surprise. Now Cline is a known and respected author, who has produced a great book and a good book now…with hopefully more to come!
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Review Copy Provided by Publisher