Book Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

Errnest Cline’s Armada harkens back to 1980s teen sci-fi. In the early 80s fear began to strike parents everywhere that their children’s minds were going to turn to mush playing video games. Arcades were everywhere as well as home gaming systems like Atari. Instead of reading or playing outside, kids would sit in front of their televisions for hours. If they did go outside it was just to ride their bikes down to the local arcade or bowling alley to spend their quarters. While the adults fretted, writers and film makers took a different approach to the new phenomenon. What if these games were doing something good, not just for the kids but for all of society?

Movies like War Games, The Last Starfighter, Ender’s Game, and Tron told stories of video game savvy kids (or young adults in the case of Tron) saving the planet from alien invasions or averting nuclear annihilation. Really it was the rise of geek culture that has fully taken hold today. Computer geeks aren’t wimps, they’re heroes!

Cline revisits these themes in Armada, but unfortunately he doesn’t do all that much with the genre. I wasn’t in any way expecting another Ready Player One. If I want that I can just go read it again. But I was hoping for just as engaging of a story, and I didn’t find it here.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t totally dislike it, but I did have a couple of main problems with it. Like Ready Player One there’s a lot of Generation X 80s nostalgia in Armada so it’s hard to compare them a little bit. The nostalgia in Ready Player One had a point to it. In that story an aging Gen X designer added it all to his virtual reality world so he could continuously relive his childhood and teen years. That same nostalgia was forced upon the future generations to the point that they didn’t even seem to create their own music, movies, or other artistic works.

In Armada, which doesn’t take place in the future like Ready Player One does, 17-year-old Zack Lightman has an unhealthy obsession with his deceased father’s stash of ‘80s memorabilia. That’s fine for that character, however everyone he knows seems to have the same dedication to all things ‘80s for no particular reason. It’s not all that plausible that all teens would know every obscure reference to ‘80s pop culture.

However, one of my biggest issues with Armada is the inclusion of Carl Sagan being in on the massive alien cover up. Sagan being in on a government conspiracy to hide the existence of aliens basically renders all of his work pointless and a lie. Sagan also isn’t here to comment on his inclusion in this book, so I was disappointed in his inclusion in this story.

Overall, I found the story to be kind of predictable. I was hoping the twist that had been hinted at pretty much the whole time (and is the same twist used in a couple of the aforementioned movies and books) would turn out to be something different, but it wasn’t. Armada isn’t a hard book to get through – at least the audio version narrated by Wil Wheaton isn’t. I loved Wheaton’s reading of Ready Player One, he was perfect for it (and it was meta!), and he does a good job with this as well (I really need to talk about John Scalzi soon). If you’re going to check out Armada I recommend going the audio book route – for Wheaton’s take on it if nothing else.

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