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Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline published on 3 Comments on Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

armada

 

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.

Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson published on

Seveneves

 

I have to admit that I have a very real addiction, and it is to disaster porn. I am no dilettante. I’ve tracked down disaster movies from the 40s (they look like bad YouTube videos); I gleefully bought Category 7: The End of the World; I fell in love with Greg Grunberg in a totally different movie, also called End of the World; and I even sat all the way through Icepocalypse, and that one was so subpar that it used Santa Claus references to explain its fake science. All of this should explain fully why I was so excited when I heard about Neal Stephenson’s latest novel, a harrowing tale of an E.L.E, and what humanity does to attempt to survive it.

The moon in Seveneves explodes in the very first line, and I was hooked.  There are very few things on planet Earth that can wipe out the entire planet. It takes space objects to really create that terrifying sense of vulnerability. After the moon exploded, the book embarked on an epic (indeed, the descendants of the survivors called it their Epic) tale of survival. The location chosen to preserve humanity as best it can was the International Space Station. The survivors sent off planet were safe from the inevitable: a White Sky, as what remained of the moon entered the atmosphere, and a Hard Rain, the impact of these objects upon the earth. They had two years to get as many scientists, mathematicians, geniuses, and a selection of young candidates from each country who would help keep the human genome from stagnation.

Stephenson has an extreme capacity to extrapolate stories from hard science data, and in Seveneves, his imagination truly shines (unlike the poor moon…). The book contains an incredible amount of detail, from the work of the biologist character, to the original astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS, to the technical aspects of creating an ark that would save humanity. He consistently nails the pace. There is only one section of it that made my eyes glaze over, but that was more my fault because I don’t have a working knowledge of spacecraft.

He did not at all neglect the character development, an aspect of his writing that levers him above the other hard science fiction writers. I grew attached to most of the women who would become the Seven Eves, I rooted for them, and I cried for them. The characters take a nontraditional path from being extremely terrified and obsessed (rightfully so) with the inevitable conclusion to life on earth to as detached from the situation and remote from the people they cared about as the ISS. In this case, it was a matter of the characters catching up to and then echoing the distance of the ISS. I thought it very realistic that they would experience this sort of emotional protection. It was sad, but very subtly done.

A great many things happen after the moon explodes, and all of it is worth reading. The book is a great big door-stopper of a book, and yet when it was finished, I immediately went online to find out if there would be any companion novels that would tell the same events, but from another group’s point of view. Alas, a companion novel does not appear to be on the horizon. His next novel will be a collaborative effort, and published sometime in 2017.

Wonderful book. Read it.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson is published by William Morrow on May 19, 2015.

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