STARRED REVIEW
July 2015

Armada

By Ernest Cline
Saving the universe with a little help from pop culture
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It’s hard to follow a debut that immediately became an international phenomenon, was published in 40 countries and is in the works to become a movie (hopefully with the same mind-blowing visual effects Warner Bros. brought to movies like Inception, The Lego Movie and The Matrix). The thing that made Ernest Cline’s first book, Ready Player One, so good was a nearly impossible balance between where-the-hell-did-that-come-from originality and the familiarity of Gen-X pop-culture references. There’s no such balance in his second novel, Armada. Familiarity surpasses originality—intentionally.

High school student Zack Lightman is staring out a classroom window, dreaming of adventure, when he spies the impossible: a prismatic alien spacecraft straight out of his favorite video game. His gamer father, who died in a freak accident years ago, predicted as much in his seemingly incoherent journals about a conspiracy involving the government and the entire sci-fi industry. But now it’s clear his father wasn’t crazy: The government has indeed been preparing for an impending alien war by training gamers as an army of drone-flying soldiers. Over the course of only a few days, Zack finds himself on the frontlines of intergalactic warfare as one of the best gamers around, and therefore Earth’s greatest hope.

Does all this sound a little . . . familiar? Is it ringing of Ender’s Game and The Last Starfighter? Not to give anything away, but of course it does. Science fiction is a genre constructed through reused tropes, which can be manipulated to expand the cultural conversation of genre fiction—but in Armada, even Zack feels uneasy about falling into such a classic sci-fi narrative.

Armada is almost pure action-adventure while winkingly employing a barrage of jokes and clichés from video games and sci-fi movies, television and books. It’s big fun, especially if your idea of fun is sitting around watching your friends play video games while discussing important theories like Sting vs. Mjolnir.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Armada

Armada

By Ernest Cline
Crown
ISBN 9780804137256

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