Armada by Ernest Cline – A Review

Dear lord have mercy.  Armada.  A book that, as best as I can tell, is fairly divisive among fans of Cline.  His second outing after Ready Player One.

A book that I wish I liked more then I did.

Let me put this up here quickly, for those who don’t want to get too bogged down.  Armada, for me, is average at best.  A decent story, but with a variety of issues that prevented me from enjoying it more.

Armada tells the story of Zack, a high school senior with anger management issues.  He is a gamer, playing the online MMO Armada, a space fight sim that is the biggest game in existance.  Billions of people play it every day from all over the world, and Zack is ranked 6th in the world.  He lives with his single mother, and tries to connect with his deceased father through his fathers old belongings and music.

Early on in the story Zack sees what he thinks is a space ship, straight out of Armada, hovering near his school.  He assumes it to be just his imagination and having played too much Armada, and then vows to lay off the gaming after the evenings major event.

He works after school in a small Retro Gaming shop, where his boss spends all day playing the alternate game to Armada, Terran Defense Force (or something along those lines, I cant remember).  A ground combat game where the enemy aliens of Armada are fought on Earth with Giant Mechs.

He eventually discovers that not everything is what it seems and that maybe aliens are real and that Armada was only a training program to fight them off!  What follows is Zack trying to come to grips with several disturbing revelations as he tries to save the world from the alien invaders with the help of some new friends.

All in all the basic premise sounds great right?  Alien invasion that is fought off by gamers instead of the military, who have been secretly trained via video games?  But there is one major flaw that makes the whole thing fall apart for me.

Characters.  They are as flat as can be.  Zack can truly be summed up as the teenager with anger management and daddy issues.  Thats all he is in this book.  Zacks mother is your standard Single Mom missing her dead Husband.  Zacks two friends are comic relief one and two.  The school bully is just that, a bully.  Zack meets a girl who he almost instantly falls for, who can be described as the Punk Rock Hacker Chick.  He meets the other 4 members of the top 10 (members 7-10) and they can be descirbed best as Religious Single Mom, The Foriegn Kid, The Excitable Youngster, and the Pothead.  He meets his 2 commanding officers, one can be described as the level headed conspiracy theorist, and the other the hardnosed battleweary general.  His primary commanding officers aides are the super conspiracy theorist and the skeptic.

Thats right.  Every character can be summed up in such a way, and the book moves at such a breakneck speed that no development that makes any sense is given to anyone!  At one point, when it seems like they are all going to die fight, everyone but Zack and his commanding officer break up into pairs and bang.  I am not even kidding.  Zack cant bang his supposed love interest though because she is on earth and he is not at the time.

Further, there are a few twists that occur in the book, and both are easily telegraphed early on.  I don’t want to spoil them so I wont point them out.  But seriously, you can see them coming.

Now there is some good.  It does a good job portraying what could happen in such an event.  The writing is spot on, and while the characters get almost no development you can sort of forgive that at times just because of the action scenes.  And the action scenes are stellar.  As is the world building.  I can easily imagine a world where these sort of games take over.  Just look at our world now.  Much like Ready Player One, Cline presents a future that is entirely plausible to a point.

Overall, there is some good here, and some bad.  Its average at best, and after Ready Player One I think thats the biggest problem here.  Its just simply average.

I would give this a 3/5.  Read it if you are a fan of Cline and want more of his work.  Otherwise you can avoid it, or hell just wait for the apparently upcoming movie.

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