In 2011 Ernest Cline‘s first book, Ready Player One, was published much to the joy of geeks and nerds everywhere. I didn’t get around to reading it until 2013, but since then I’ve been awaiting Cline’s follow up novel ever since. On Tuesday 14 July the wait was over and Armada appeared on my Kindle.
Ready Player One was set in a dystopian future where most people interacted daily through the greatest MMO ever created, OASIS. His latest offering is set in the here and now and is the wish fulfilment of every teenager that ever sat in a class willing an exciting future instead of their dull now. Zack Lightman is just such a teenager.
Zack loves videogames, science fiction and fantasy books and films. His favourite pass time, though, is the space fighter sim Armada. He is so immersed in the game that he is ranked sixth in the world. This is well and fine until he starts hallucinating that the enemies from his favourite game are scouting his home town. But it’s not a hallucination and now Zack has been spectacularly recruited into the Earth Defence Alliance. Zack’s endless hours of game playing and Raid The Arcade mix will either help to save the world or destroy it.
Just like Ready Player One, Armada is rife with inside jokes and references that only people who have spent a lifetime immersed in the geek/nerd culture will get completely. And while this is fun for those of us that do understand all the references, it is also holds Armada back from fully developing the characters.
Cline’s uses pop/geek culture references as method of character development. We are expected to know how the characters feel and react based on the films, books, and songs they quote. Once you get past the first few pages of Armada and the initial smugness that comes with getting it, you want the story to take you somewhere beyond that, and unfortunately Armada doesn’t quite get you there.
Written entirely from the perspective of Zack Lightman, Armada perhaps suffers a little in hearing only one voice throughout the book. There were many potentially interesting characters that could have added their voices to the story, but we have to see them through Zack’s eyes. This may have been a calculated risk on the part of Cline in that writing from the perspective of a typically self-centred teen, but the characters and events reported through his lens and feel somewhat diminished in scope.
If it sounds as if I didn’t enjoy Armada let me be clear; that is simply not the case. What Armada does well, for me at least, is remind us that why we fell in love with science fiction in the first place. Because it’s fun and full of hope. Armada drops all pretence of effected ennui and does it’s level best to show you a good time. For me Armada was a fun read, and while not terribly deep, it did have me grinning pretty much throughout the entire book. In the end you can’t ask for much more in a book.
While not as great as Ready Player One, Armada is more than capable of showing you how much we need fun, hopeful science fiction again. I think Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein would have enjoyed this book. I certainly did.