Book Review – Armada
A problem with reviewing a book like Armada by Ernest Cline is that there’s two types of people reading it. Those who have read Ready Player One and those who haven’t. The diversity isn’t the real issue, it’s that there will be some people who think the book would have been better if they had been on the other side of the option. I’m going to say that it wouldn’t really matter either way because Armada is not well written.
In Ready Player One, our hero was a teenage boy who was obsessed with 80’s pop culture so he could win a contest in a virtual reality game. That was why it was believable that kids in the near future would be into the same stuff that the writer was into, they characters had to be into 80’s pop or they wouldn’t win the money.
In Armada, our hero is a teenage boy who is obsessed with 80’s pop culture because… well, his dad was into that stuff too but his dad is gone and so getting into the same movies and games that his dad liked helps him feel closer to his dad, except it wouldn’t because he’s angry at his dad and tries to forget about him… yeah, it doesn’t work as well.
The book moves fast, you’ll finish it in a two or three sittings if you’re invested. But it moves quickly more from being simple and very A to B to C in plotting rather than keeping you guessing. Subplots are non-existent, there’s no breathing to get to know our character outside of his love for pop culture and his anger issues. The supporting characters never get any chance to shine or be interesting. Most people are just there to explain the plot or to tell our hero how good he is at video games.
I was hoping Armada would be subversive, playing on our expectations of a plot straight out of The Last Starfighter but it doesn’t go that route. It really is as simple as Earth is being invaded by aliens. I wonder if, since Ready Player One is taking forever to become a movie, Cline wrote this book to be simpler and easier to adapt into film? That would be clever but I could have lived my life without both. Cline’s first book took place in virtual reality for most of the book but there was more heart in that world than in Armada.
It also doesn’t help that his references and nods to geek culture feel like pandering and marking boxes off a list. Last Starfighter reference? Check! 80s arcade nostalgia? Check! Fight about fantasy weaponry? Check!
When everyone gets every reference, every quote, when they like all the same movies and shows and have all spend hours and hours rewatching the same scenes, it all loses the thing that makes it special. Geeks just become a single minded, personality-less blob. No one dislikes a popular show, no one has not played a popular game.
It’s almost like you have to stay popular to stay a geek. You’re missing the point Ernest Cline.