After reading Ernest Cline's first book, Ready Player One, back in 2011, I was so ready for him to write a second novel. Ready Player One read like a video game. The descriptions were incredible, the plot was fascinating, and the action was intense. So imagine my excitement when Armada finally became available to readers in July of this year. Many people were anticipating the release of this book and expected that same brand of almost intoxicating adventure we got from its predecessor.
The Situation: Zack Lightman is attempting to ride out the remainder of his senior year by keeping his anger down and staying out of trouble. He lives a fairly normal existence with his mom in Beaverton, Oregon, playing his favorite video games with his two best friends and working at a struggling video game store in an almost defunct mall. His boss, Ray, is almost like a father-figure to him as his own dad died tragically in an explosion at his job when Zack was just a baby. Zack became almost obsessed with his father, despite his lack of memory of him, and was able to go through the old boxes his mom kept in the attack to get a sense of what his dad was like. While Zack seemed to inherit his love of video games and science fiction, he fears he may have also gotten his paranoid delusions and affinity for conspiracy theories.
The Problem: Turns out that Xavier Lightman, Zack's father, may not have been so paranoid after all. As Zack his staring outside of his classroom window, he spots what he recognizes as an enemy spacecraft from one of his favorite video games, Armada. He brushes it off and tells no one, but then no one can deny it when an aircraft from Earth Defense Alliance shows up to take Zack away. It seems that as one of the top ten players of Armada in the world, Zack is now one of the main people able to defend the planet against the potential alien invaders. Turns out that not only was his father right, but all of those years Zack was playing video games has prepared him for the fight of his life. In the next few hours Zack will meet other top players and learn things about close friends and family that all at once make him angry, happy, and afraid. And the last thing he wants is for his home planet to be destroyed now that he finally seems to have a direction.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction book that probably could also fall into the young adult category, as the narrator and primary focal point is teenager Zack Lightman. As the number six Armada player in the world, it is fair to say that Zack loves video games. He loves defending Earth against the Sobrukai aliens, as well as taking on other players in one-on-one fights. Even when things turn out to be all too real with the actual alien invasion, Zack uses the same techniques he would use at home to keep his cool and focus on the mission at home. The novel is full of science fiction references, both from the past and the present, as it is soon realized that the government has been using movies, TV shows, and video games as a way to prepare Earth for an alien invasion since the 1960s. Well-known scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking even make a brief appearance. The book calls into question just how much the government is keeping from us, especially when it calls us to action, as well as what type of alien species we could encounter as we continue to explore outer space. Everything works out okay in movies like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but it's situations like the ones in Independence Day and War of the Worlds that the government decides to prepare for.
My Verdict: I knew better than to expect this book to recreate the experience I had with Ready Player One. But just because it wasn't Ready Player One, it didn't mean it still couldn't be an awesome book. The beginning is a little rough, mostly because of the extensive explanations of the video games Zack enjoys, as well as the detailed back story about his father. Once you get past that, the action really picks up, as well as the reveals. The book becomes a page-turner as Zack is whisked off to Moon Base Alpha and the fighting begins. Then there is a certain point in the book where the narrative pacing seems to change, and all of a sudden things get rushed. Characters are being pushed aside; details are left out. And then, it is all over. Without the attention to detail and storytelling that was in the other parts of the book, Cline seemingly ends it just to end it. It is almost like he just got tired of writing and decided to wrap everything up as quickly as possible. It is probably one of the most disappointing endings that I have encountered all year. Thankfully, the journey was quite enjoyable. But if you're all about the destination, then you're going to be incredibly sad.
Favorite Moment: When Whoadie, the number seven player in the world quotes both the Bible and Shakespeare without blinking an eye.
Favorite Character: This is kind of hard as many characters are introduced, but a lot of them either (*spoiler alert*) die in battle, or they just kind of end up fazed out by the end of the novel. Even so, I suppose I will pick both Whoadie and Debbie. Debbie is a single mom who happens to be the number nine player in the world. The two women are among the top ten players in the world and have earned their spot next to the boys in helping defend Earth from an invasion.
Recommended Reading: I would certainly recommend Ready Player One over Armada. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card would also be a good follow up.