Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Crown Publishers/Random House
Genre: Sci-fi Thriller
Unique Elements: A master video game player gets the opportunity to take his skills into a real war—but with an unexpected twist.
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Number of Page: 368 Pages
MSRP: $26 HC
Author Website: Click Here
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Discount: Click Here
Reviewed by: JT Hanke
Final Score: 4.5 Moons (out of 5)
In the near future, Zack Lightman is a video game savant at one of the most popular games in the world: ARMADA. Armada allows people with souped up VR control rigs to control flying robots and attempt to fend off an alien invasion.
In a case of pop culture déjà vu harkening back to The Last Starfighter and Ender’s Game, Lightman discovers that the game is a training simulator designed to find the best and the brightest pilots on the planet to defend the earth from a real alien invasion. However, after a hurried recruitment, Lightman discovers that deception lurks in the shadows of his new engagement and, if he can’t ferret out the solutions, the world is most assuredly doomed.
If you’ve read my review of Ready Player One (RPO) you know that I love, love, LOVED that book. It brought a super-hybrid fusion of book and augmented reality through multimedia like YouTube and Spotify that was completely original and satisfying. (I was not the only one to love the book, as it’s movie rights were optioned by Warner Brothers before the book even released and is currently being developed for film adaptation by writer Zak Penn, who wrote/directed the documentary Atari: Game Over, with Stephen Spielberg set to direct.) The danger when one loves one book can be to be overly critical of the next book, because the bar has been set too high—especially when the story arc seems predictable from the outset.
With that said, Cline manages to craft a storyline that’s intriguing and compelling even though you think you know where everything’s going for the first half of the book. However, much like Chris Nolan’s Memento, the twist that arises in the middle leaves you wondering how on earth a satisfying conclusion can be reached. And, much like Memento, the conclusion is definitely worth the journey.
The dynamics of Ernest Cline books are always intriguing.
On one hand, you have the dynamics within the book.
Here, you start with the internal dynamics played out between the relationships of the major characters themselves: Zack—the rage-fueled hero who lives under the shadow of his dead father; Ray—his mentor/boss at the vintage video game shop; Cruz and Diehl–his best friends and home-town supporters; and Alexis Larkin–the gothic female mech pilot and love interest. These relationships then impact how the characters approach the external dynamics of the recruitment and unveiling of the invasion itself.
On the other hand, you have the dynamics OUTSIDE the book. This is because Cline requires the audience to not only engage with the characters in the book itself, but also in the “character” of pop culture from our world.
Unlike RPO, which dealt with an entire decade of pop culture from the ‘80’s going from toys to video games to music videos to albums to crazes, Armada deals with a tighter swath of pop culture: music from the ‘70’s & ‘80’s (through a beloved mix tape, called “Raid the Arcade”) and classic scifi novels, movies, and video games from the ’70’s-‘90’s. As almost everything outside of the mix tape is in long form, you won’t have the opportunity—or the distraction—of looking most of them up on YouTube as you read, which is both a blessing and a curse.
The unexpected twist to the storyline, the unexpected hero (who is just as much of an outsider with his Hulk-like strength and temper as someone who is small and puny), the strong and sassy women, the appeal to classic sci-fi and video games, and the punk/rock soundtrack of the ‘80’s & ‘90’s make this a novel that fit’s the modern Gothic sensibility like a glove.
You’ll enjoy it even more if you play the music found in the “Raid the Arcade” Mix Tape list at the back of the book and then just let the music wash over you while you do. (And, as with RPO, there are a number of scenes where queuing up certain songs will give you an unexpected combination of inputs as you read and listen—like the extremely surprising combination of RUN DMC’s “Run’s House” with a last stand battle between two major characters!) As a gift to our readers, we’ve created a YouTube Playlist of every single song in the list which you can listen to below! (Or you can go to its YouTube link here.)
While Armada was not quite as strong as Ready Player One, partially because its requirements for pop culture awareness and research aren’t as far reaching as RPO’s was, it was still a very good and satisfying book. And, unlike RPO, which doesn’t require a sequel (although it may get one if early reports are to believed), Armada ends practically demanding one–so hopefully we can look forward to at least a trilogy in this series.
And, since Armada has been generating such a buzz before release that it’s already been optioned for film by Universal for a reported seven figures, there’s a good chance that there could be a trilogy not just in book form, but also in film. And Armada comes ready to go with a previsualized Mix Tape of its own to help indicate a potential style it might have! (Guardians of the Galaxy showed just how important a good ‘70s & ‘80’s mix tape can be to a rollicking space adventure!) [Editor’s Note: The publisher has clarified that ‘Armada isn’t part of a series (yet).’ In other words, as with most original books or movies in a potential series, popular reception will determine if it’s a standalone or not. -JTH]
For those who prefer to listen to their books in audio format, you can get the audio book here, which is narrated by pop-culture wunderkind, Wil Wheaton (who does as delightful a job on this one as he did on the narration for Ready Player One, I might add).
Story: 4.5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Dynamics: 4.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
Gothic Fit: 5.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
Final Score (not an average): 4.5 Moons (out of 5.0)