Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

July 27, 2015
Review: Armada by Ernest ClineArmada by Ernest Cline
on July 14th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 368

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Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.  But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.  And then he sees the flying saucer.  Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.   No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.  It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?  At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

Armada is all about fun and nostalgia. I am sure you have seen else where that Ready Player One has a more original plot line and world, and I won’t argue that,  but honestly, I didn’t feel like that was what this book was about. It wholeheartedly embraces tropes and everything it is reminiscent of by blatantly borrowing (and telling you it is borrowing) from other works. Yes, you will read this and feel the basic story has been told before, but that is the whole point of the book. It is an homage, the ultimate, well…Fanfic has such a negative connatation, but I kind of want to say it is like the  ultimate fanfic piece paying homage to so many wonderful characters, movies, music and books. And just because a story has been told before does not mean that it is not a story worth reading. The author bring his own touches to keep this book entertaining and engaging.

Zak Lightman is a teenager who, like many, loves video games. He spends every night playing Armada, a flight simulator game that is protecting the earth from alien invaders. And his job? He works at a  Gaming is in his blood. Zak never knew his father, but he  who is constantly told how eerily similar he is, looking so much like his father, who died before Zak could ever know him. And his father loved gaming. Zak forms a kind of bond with the he never knew, by going through and enjoying all the old movies, music and games that were his fathers. He also has a close relationship with his mother, who also loves the throw back geek references.

Anyway, in the midst of what seems to be a typical (boring) day, Zak catches a glimpse of what looks to be a replica of a space ship from Armada. But this one? This one wasn’t a toy or something mundane. It appeared in the sky. Looking about, wondering if anyone else had seen, Zak obsesses over whether he is going insane, or if there really was an alien spaceship outside of his high school.

Yes, you can likely predict he is not going insane.

This book is about rejoicing in our common love of the old familiar. It carries out out the plot line of familiar books and movies, throwing in quotes from not just genre references, but straight up pop-culture hits from the 80s. If you are looking for something completely original, this is obviously not going to be the book for you. You know that picture floating around the internet, where someone flagged all the deaths in ASoIaF? I’d love to see what this book looks like with all of the tropes and references flagged, especially as I suspect I missed a good number of them.

There were no surprises in this, except perhaps a Lloyd Dobler reference. I guess that is the thing with this book, the plot may not have surprises, but the references can be unexpected and fun. Maybe it’s predictable, but the book is about enjoying the journey. It seems to celebrate the unoriginality of some parts of the books, and brings in fun ways to keep the story moving and fresh for the reader. It’s up to the reader to decide if that is what they are looking for.



  • Tammy @Books, Bones & Buffy July 27, 2015 at 12:40 am

    I had a blast with this, and I thought all the references were so much fun. I got most of them, I think!
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    • Lisa (@TenaciousReader) July 27, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Some of the ones I got were subtle enough, that I would have had no clue if I was missing something if I hadn’t gotten it. So I am SURE I missed some.
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  • DJ (@MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape) July 27, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Very good review! I don’t mind reading a book where the story has been told before, so long as there is a little something special there to separate it from the rest. Being video game focused, and loaded with 80’s references is something I would put in that category 🙂
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  • Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum July 27, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    I agree, this was fun. I think people who are expecting the magic and charm of another RPO will be disappointed, but Armada does its own thing well, and if you’re just looking for pure escapism it does the job. And heck yeah, I love cheesy gaming references! LEEEEEEEEROY JENKINS!!!
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  • Lynn July 27, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    This was just pure good fun. I loved all the references and the fact that he’s done this whole play of taking all the films we know and sticking them in here and unashamedly saying this is the plot – it’s great. I do prefer the first but I think that’s just the novelty aspect. It would be interesting to see if people who read this one first prefer it to RPO.
    Lynn 😀
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  • Danya @ Fine Print July 29, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    I’ve been seeing a lot of mixed reviews for this one, so I’m glad to hear that Armada ended up working for you. It sounds like this one is a great summer read if nothing else. Ha, that ASoIaF photo is classic! Tabbing books like that based on tropes would be a fun exercise for Tough Traveling, I think.
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