Thursday, January 3, 2019

ARMADA - gamer geekery in the tradition of Ready Player One

Hi, everyone. Welcome to 2019. It doesn't look very different to 2018 from where I sit – but who knows? I may finish a new book this year.

Before we went off on our Christmas holiday to Norfolk Island I finished reading ARMADA, a novel by the author of READY PLAYER ONE, Ernest Cline. I loved Ready Player One – both the novel and the very, very different movie, (here's my review) so (wincing at the price - AU$12.99) I one-clicked to download.

Here's the blurb – and editorial reviews.


'[A] masterful tale of Earth's desperate struggle against a powerful alien foe.' - Andy Weir, bestselling author of The Martian

It’s just another day of high school for Zack Lightman. He's daydreaming through another boring math class, with just one more month to go until graduation and freedom—if he can make it that long without getting suspended again.

Then he glances out his classroom window and spots the flying saucer.

At first, Zack thinks he’s going crazy.

A minute later, he’s sure of it. Because the UFO 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.

But what Zack’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.

Yet even as he and his new comrades scramble to prepare for the alien onslaught, Zack can’t help thinking of all the science-fiction books, TV shows, and movies he grew up reading and watching, and wonder: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little too… familiar?

Armada is at once a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien-invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with author Ernest Cline’s trademark pop-culture savvy.

Here's what everyone's saying about the epic follow-up to READY PLAYER ONE:
‘a modern classic’ – R.M. Rangeley on Amazon, 5 stars
‘A modern masterpiece full of a new style of literary magic– Spiros Kagadis on Amazon, 5 stars
‘Excellent. Even better than Ready Player One.’ – David Hay on Amazon, 5 stars
One of my favourite books of all time. Incredibly well written’ – Erin Coppin on Amazon, 5 stars
‘Awesome! If you liked Ready Player One, would be very surprised if you don't like this’ – T. Llewellyn-Sanders on Amazon, 5 stars
‘Absolutely awesome!!! Read in less than 24 hours, hooked on every page’ – R. Nicholson on Amazon, 5 stars
Amazing and a great follow up read to Ready Player One!’ – Chris on Amazon, 5 stars
‘an incredible story which had me on the edge of my seat the whole time… a joy to read’ – Helen Ratcliffe on Amazon, 5 stars
‘Cline brings you back to all those amazing, unbelievable things you imagined could happen as a kid and makes them real’ – Amazon reviewer, 5 stars
‘Absolutely brilliant! Couldn't put it down, a must read’ – Sam Bean on Amazon, 5 stars
‘a love letter to old school alien invasion sci-fi... Highly, HIGHLY recommended for all fans of Cline’s previous novel, Ready Player One, as well as any classic science fiction fan’ – Izzy on Amazon, 5 stars
Ernest Cline is celebrating this culture in a way that’s not just adding another book to the genre, but actually truly celebrating it, the possibilities, wonders and madness of it all’ – Heather on Amazon, 5 stars
‘majorly, fantastically geeky… Armada just ticked all my boxes’ – H. Ross on Amazon, 5 stars

What did I think?

The story is superficially reminiscent of THE LAST STARFIGHTER, a feel-good movie released in 1984, and one of the first to use CGI for its special effects. The premise is similar, with Zack Lightman's high scores in computer games landing him a role in defending Earth from alien invaders, just as Alex Rogan is recruited for an alien defense force in THE LAST STARFIGHTER. But it is a very different plot from there on.

ARMADA is a YA coming of age story and a fantasy rather like STAR WARS, with the basic elements of a quest. Zack's father is dead, killed in a workplace accident when Zack was just a baby. The boy grew up obsessed with the father he'd never known, keeping his diaries and his gamer jacket, longing to find out more about him. But Zack has a friend and father-figure in the man who runs the gaming shop where he works part-time and practices his combat skills. After he's recruited to the defense force, loner Zack discovers he has to work with a group of other gamers who he's never met to defeat the alien attack. There's a love interest, a tough gamer girl who looks nothing like Princess Leia but is every bit as strong. The alien armada is practically invincible, arrayed in overwhelming force. It's hard to imagine how the defences can hold. And of course, there's conflict among the defenders, with different views on the way to proceed.

There's a lot of serious geekery as there was in READY PLAYER ONE, with references to Zack's dead father's obsession with 1980's era computer games. In fact, I found myself skipping across whole paragraphs early in the book because (unlike READY PLAYER ONE) that level of detail about games I'd barely heard of didn't really add to the plot. Nevertheless, I persevered and finished the whole book.

However, I found myself wondering about a lot of key elements, along the lines of 'why would they have done that or why didn't they???'. I don't want to add details because spoilers. Some of the middle parts of the book sagged for me, too. The ending was good and unexpected in several ways. Zack and the rest of the survivors have grown – and grown up. And we readers are left with things to consider.

It's certainly not an enthusiastic five stars from me, but ARMADA was worth the time.


  1. Thanks for the review! I was wondering, but wow, that price!

  2. Interesting...but maybe a little too close to Ready Player One and The Last Starfighter--which as much as I love SF(R) was just plain silly to me. I'm sure Armada will do well, though.

    This author seems to have definitely found his niche in gamer-based sci-fi.

    1. Yes, if that's your poison he'll do well. I doubt if I'll bother again, though.

  3. Yeah, I loved READY PLAYER ONE, but largely because it was so original. This one sounds less so, and the coming-of-age angle is more pronounced, a minus for me. I'll give it a pass for now and hope Cline moves on to something more my speed.


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