This was disappointing. I absolutely geeked out over Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and I was eagerly anticipating his next novel. But while Armada wasn’t bad, necessarily, it also wasn’t anything special, and after providing such geeky pleasure with Ready Player One, being just “meh” is probably the worst thing that could have happened for the author’s next novel.
Like Ready Player One, Armada dives deep into gaming culture, and posits the premise that the fate of the world lies in the hands of nerds. In Armada, a particular video game involving aliens comes to life in the real world, and it turns out that this game was actually a training device aimed to prepare the world against an alien invasion. Enter Zach Lightman, video gamer extraordinaire who is recruited to join the elite forces in saving the world. There is also a bit of a subplot involving Zach’s relationship with his father, a fellow gamer who became consumed by his own conspiracy theories and ended up dying in a sewage plant explosion when Zach was a baby.
Unfortunately, overall, this whole story and all its subplots just felt all “same old, same old.” Certainly, most of the references (Star Wars, Ender’s Game) are deliberate — and I likely missed a whole list of other references in my reading. Cline peppers his narrative with quips about how familiar things feel, and characters calling attention to cliches. But in this case, the quips hit too close to home. Rather than clever homage, as Ready Player One did so well, Armada just felt stale.
Worse, the characters all felt like stock characters. There’s the Ender-type chosen one with daddy issues, the wise mentor in disguise, the bully, the quirky manic pixie dream girl love interest, and an assorted cast of other people. There is a poignant moment near the end, where it seems like the aliens are about to win and various gamer/soldiers begin to pair off for a potential last moment of human connection. But otherwise, the characters felt as flat as their video game counterparts.
It’s possible that I’m just not the right kind of geek for this. Whereas I was in geek heaven over Ready Player One’s references to Nintendo type games, I rarely played space battle games unless at an arcade, and so perhaps I’m just not the target demographic for this novel. Perhaps someone who grew up playing World of Warcraft type video games would enjoy this book, or maybe someone who loved Ender’s Game would appreciate whatever subtlety there is in Cline’s homage to the story (rather than a straight up copy, which is how it struck me from seeing the Ender’s Game movie trailer).
Still, I really wish I’d enjoyed this book more. I devoured Ready Player One, and I’m up to read whatever Cline writes next. Unfortunately, I had fairly high expectations for Armada, and it fell short.
Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.