Book Review # 49: Armada by Ernest Cline

Thursday, 16 July 2015
Please note that before you read this review that I am reviewing this publication for Random House Kids UK. I received an advanced readers copy of this title in exchange for an honest review. In no way is my opinion influenced by the fact that I received this free of charge. Now on with the review.

Title: Armada
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Century
Format: Hardback
Publication Date: July 16th 2015
Pages: 368
Review Copy from Publisher

PurchaseThe Book Depository / Waterstones

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?

For fans of Ready Player One or all things Sci-Fi and nerdy comes a fantastic instalment by acclaimed author Ernest Cline. Ever since I finished Cline's debut novel 'Ready Player One', I knew I craved something more by this author. Cline has a unique way of integrating decades old pop culture with modern storytelling and it works fantastically well in the Sci-Fi settings he creates. Set in the modern day, Armada tells the tale of your average video game obsessed teenager who while at school one day notices a flying saucer that nobody else seems to pay attention to. Although alarming, the saucer isn't the reason Zack (our main protagonist) is concerned, he's more worried about why the spacecraft looks like it's flown right out of his favourite video game. With strong comparisons to The Last Starfighter and Ender's Game, Armada is a strong competitor in a familiar genre, but does all of the hype match the popularity of Cline's debut novel? Let's see what I thought...

First things first (I'm the realest) I need to mention that if you are going into Armada being a fan of Cline's previous novel, I can't say that you'll be disappointed. Armada shares the same unique blend of lyrical storytelling merged with nerdy pop culture that fans of this writing style will thoroughly enjoy and be surprised to see that Cline really takes it to the next level in regards to detail. From the first few pages of this book I was naturally drawn into this world because I found the character to be so relatable. Many hours have I spent sat in front of a console casually watching the hours drift away in the background as I became absorbed in my favourite video games. It was really exciting to see a character that was praised not for their abilities to be the multi-skilled weapon wielding bad ass that we see in popular YA fiction today, but praised for their abilities to be obsessive, compulsive and your average person. 

The novel really kicks off as readers are lifted beyond the pages into the imagination of Zack's world. Cline's writing is very visual and it really appeals to those who can really envision what is happening in a novel. The first half of the plot was really exciting, and as we get drawn deeper into the storyline and get to learn more about the character's and their situations, we also get introduced to a variety of others who assist Zack on his journey as he progresses. Unfortunately for me, when the novel's primary location changed and Zack was shipped off to the moon base to aid in defending the Earth, I felt the pace of the novel dipped quite dramatically and the novel began to drag in certain areas - more importantly the space battles. Now I can praise Cline's writing until the sun comes up but for some reason during the endless battle scenes I found myself skimming over pages because the detail in his writing was often too intense and slightly repetitive. This was only a minor issue however as I loved the rest of the scenes. 

As for predictability, this novel has been to The Last Starfighter and Ender's Game and while I can see strong parallel's between the novels, Cline's Armada stands out as it's own, but does follow similar predictability tropes of stereotypical Sci-Fi and YA novels, in particular the foretelling death of the father figure after his miraculous re-appearence into Zack's life. Unfortunately this was something that I figured out quite early on in the story so at times I found myself just waiting for the inevitable, and then when it did happen I found it to be a tad anticlimactic. 

In this novel we're introduced to a whole cast of characters and the relationships Zack has with them is all quite individual. The relationship he has with his mother I thought was absolutely superb and while it was very brief I treasured the comic relief as I worked my way through this story. In regards to his father, I felt the relationship that was there was realistic due to the scenario, but at times it did fall slightly flat on the excitement scale. I think I was expecting some largely developed bonding whilst on the moon base, but what we got was essentially angsty debate and then eventual retribution. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on that front considering the dramatic end Cline presents the reader's with in regards to his character. Similarly to Ready Player One, Armada has a collective cast of supporting characters to our main protagonist and I think these characters were utilised well to their potential and were each partially central to the storyline. From the characters we meet on Earth in Zack's hometown to the ones he makes in the EDA, each had their own personalities and individual character traits that really made them stand out from the crowd. In regards to the relationship Zack has with Lex, I appreciated Cline breaking down the walls of stereotypes towards female gamers. Not only was Lex a kick ass female gamer/hacker but she was also portrayed as ridiculously attractive which is always a nice supportive declaration to make to unravel the stereotype that hot girls can't be gamers. Three cheers to that. 

So overall this novel was an quick witted, action-packed, nerdy dedication to the little gamer inside me. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it attributes to all those who enjoy Sci-Fi, video game culture, and sporting rememberable characters. I award Armada by Ernest Cline a 4 out of 5 stars on my classification scale. A definite recommendation to anyone!

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