Author: Ernest Cline
Rating: 3/5 stars
Thank you to Netgalley & Random House UK for providing me a e-ARC of this title. My opinions are my own.
Zack Lightman is one of the world’s top player of the online game, Armada, which revolves around the defence of Earth from alien invasion. He starts off the novel aimless in his real life, preferring to retreat to gaming or scouring his dead father’s secret stash of conspiracy theories regarding the government’s plan for the world’s top gamers. Just when Zack thinks he’s finally lost his marbles, it turns out that his father was correct – Earth is under threat and it’s up to him and his fellow players to save it.
Armada is a gamer’s fantasy come true. It’s also littered with countless pop culture references, ranging from Star Wars to Atari to Stephen Hawking – no fandom was spared. I had a lot of fun identifying the references! While the book made for a very entertaining read, there was not much substance to the actual characters or plots (as expected, I guess?)
In an effort to pay homage to Armada, I shall try to shoehorn in as many appropriate gifs in this review as possible.
I’m a bad-news-first kinda gal, so let’s start by airing Armada’s weak spots. None of the characters were relatable for me -but then again, I don’t play MMOs and my closest brush with gaming are limited to PS1/PS2 RPGs and 6 generations of Pokemon (shush!); plus my only nerd-cred remains my ability to quote the LOTR trilogy.
Zack Lightman, our narrator, was the only person to undergo any semblance of growth in the book. Though we saw the events through his eyes, I never got attached to Zack, nor did I feel for his daddy issues or lack of direction in life. His narrative voice also felt very young to me, though he was supposedly 18, Zack read like a 14 year old at most? His friends and allies got even poorer treatments, each being reduced to shallow character types: like the Chinese guy and the hot hacker love interest. I wish I cared more for these characters as the book lost a lot of emotional punch in its climactic scene.
The plot also got lost in all the pop culture trivia– it felt like the book was created to be a galore of nerd references, rather than having the references supplementing an existing storyline. While the references were fun, Armada lost itself in its frenzied homage of past scifi flicks -to the point where the actual content of the book ceases to be memorable.
Ahem, now that my inner critic has had her go, here’s the stuff I found enjoyable:
I sort of love how unabashedly ludicrous the plot is! I imagine a legion of people like my little brother being enlisted as soldiers and it’s all sorts of hilarious. These kids aren’t soldiers, and the book understands that – never ceasing in showing us their uncertainty and endless banter, even in the face of a full blown alien invasion. The conspiracy theories flying about in the book were also highly entertaining – it’s possibly the highest form of wish fulfilments for all nerds to know there’s a higher purpose to all those hours they spend playing WoW and the likes. Now, can someone please come up with a reason why all these hours I spend blogging is going to save the world?
Although I felt that the references were excessive, I was still delighted every time I see a character arguing over ‘The Best Melee Weapon in Cinematic Verse’ or quoting LOTR/Star Wars. The book was very tongue-in-cheek, it was fully self-aware a lot of plot elements were lifted directly from apocalyptic movies – and had no qualms in trumpeting the fact.
The ending of the book was also interesting, the plot played out in a slightly unexpected way – and it leaves room for future conflict with an even more sinister figure. I think Armada has garnered enough of my interest for me to pick up the inevitable sequel.
Armada, while not page-turning, was also an incredibly fun and easy read. I can’t say I am the target audience for this book, but I can still appreciate it for what it is: a nice nostalgia trip for the game/scifi-inclined individuals. I heard that Ready Player One is a far stronger book, and I am excited to check that one out at some point.