Published by Century on July 16th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Science Fiction
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson
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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?
At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is 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 the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.
You know when you love a book so much that nothing could ever live up to it? That was Ready Player One. So naturally, I was highly anticipating Armada, thinking it was going to be equally as awesome.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. While Ready Player One successfully made gaming and 80’s pop culture references accessible to anyone including non-gamers, Armada felt like it was written for an exclusive club consisting of only the most devoted space trekkies. I love Star Wars and space sims as much as the next geek, but even I struggled with the multitude of sci-fi references placed in Armada.
“I often tried to calm myself with Yoda’s voice (which sounded nothing like Fozzie Bear, damn you) during moments of distress. Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon or Mace Windu sometimes had calming movie-quote wisdom to share too.”
This wouldn’t have been so much of a problem, if the author didn’t rely on these references so heavily to use as descriptions or for the world building. Want to know what’s happening? It’s pretty much a re-enactment from a scene of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Edge of Tomorrow or X-Files, no further explanation needed. Want to know what the ships look like? They look like an Enterprise, Millenium Falcon, X-Wing or Y-Wing. How about the character’s appearances? Zack is like a young Clark Kent, or Luke Skywalker, his mum resembles Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor and fellow gamer Milo is described as a Rocky Balboa.
The name-dropping of movies, games, music and characters got old after a few chapters, especially when it became apparent that no further attempt was going to be made to indoctrine the reader into fully understanding – and perhaps appreciating Armada.
Zack’s character felt shallow in a way that never gave me the opportunity to connect with him. His attributes pretty much consisted of being great at gaming, and having anger management issues that are never fully explored. Zack did lose his father while he was young, leading to his emotional instability, but why bother mentioning these problems if you’re never going to explore it further and it doesn’t have significance to the general plot of the story?
“I thought I actually looked pretty sharp, like an intrepid young space hero about to embark on an epic adventure. Then I realized – that was more or less my new job description.”
Zack’s past with his family is explored in the novel, but it felt like a side story to the main event. I felt so disconnected to Zack and his plight that I didn’t really care what happened to him in the novel, and it all felt clinically predictable. The whole book is pretty much a big build up to a rushed ending, which was disappointing.
Despite all my criticisms, Armada was an enjoyable, funky, geeky sci-fi story where gamers are rewarded with a real life chance to defend Earth from an alien invasion. There was fantastic diversity of the characters, who had different cultural backgrounds, ages, religions and from all walks of life. The alien technology and the alternate history was realistic and believable. However, the amount of sci-fi references, the flat characters, predictability and lack of emotional made it a fairly stock standard read.
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it. But it didn’t meet my expectations, especially following my holy grail favourite, Ready Player One. If you’re interested in a geeky, virtual reality world filled with charming pop culture references and lots of heart, please read Ready Player One instead. You won’t regret it. Read my review here.
Rating: 3 out of 5