Ernest Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, read like a love letter to those of us who experienced the 1980s. The book was saturated with – but not bogged down by – an incredible number of references to the pop culture of that era. Some of the references were blatant, and some were hidden; some were buried several layers deep, and some of his tidbits nestled inside larger and more obvious trivia – like he’s a mad scientist who put Return of the Jedi in the same room with Super Mario Bros., and extensively documented their love-making and the pregnancy that resulted. Ready Player One was a glory to read.
His sophomore effort, Armada, is much the same.
Zack Lightman is an ordinary kid whose Dad died when he was little, and who escaped to video games as soon as he learned to press buttons on a controller. It doesn’t take long in the read to discover that this kid is an elite player, but there is a tone of humility to it that makes the reader really like the guy. He’s a little aimless in real life, a little lonely, has anger management issues, and would rather play video games than do much else – in many ways, he is a typical young guy.
Then his entire world changes. Unlike Ender, who had to wait until the end of his Game, Zack is informed of the reality of the game he’s been playing all these years fairly early on. The heart of the story unfolds at a rapid pace from there, and you won’t find any spoilers beyond what I have already told you.
Armada did not capture me nearly as much Ready Player One, but I expected that. It is, however, a very excellent novel. It reads as swiftly-paced as a movie. For all his love for trivia, Cline is a tidy writer. Nothing felt overtly out of place, nothing felt shoe-horned in. I think its greatest fault is that it is a little too much of an homage. In Ready Player One, the plot is its own, despite all the references. Armada, however, is Cline’s response to Ender’s Game and The Last Starfighter. It is very good, very entertaining, and strongly written, but it is not quite as good as its big brother.
Armada by Ernest Cline was published by Crown Publishing on July 14, 2015.