Armada by Ernest Cline, July 14, 2015. Crown Publishers, 368 pages. Ages teen - adult.
Zack Lightman has spent much of his eighteen years wishing his life was different. Not that he has it bad; he has a mom who loves him, a couple of good friends, an easy part-time job where he gets paid to talk about his favorite past-time, gaming. But despite having a close relationship with his mom, he can't help but wish he had been able to know his dad, who was tragically killed shortly after he was born, and he has always felt his life was dull and mundane and he was destined for something greater.
As Zack himself puts it, "... ever since the first day of kindergarten, I had been hoping and waiting for some mind-blowingly fantastic, world-altering event to finally shatter the endless monotony of my public education." An avid sci-fi and gaming fan, he daydreamed about zombie outbreaks, super power-inducing accidents, and most of all, the arrival of little green men. Then one day, in the middle of math class, he looks out the window and sees a flying saucer! At first he thinks his eyes are playing tricks on him, but not only does it persist, as he gets a better view he sees that it looks exactly like the enemy fighter ship from his favorite videogame, Armada. Now he begins to seriously doubt his sanity and fears that he is truly loosing his mind.
Then events quickly unfold that prove the situation to be even more dire, and somehow connected to his father. Will Zack be able to uncover the whole truth?
I do not typically enjoy most science fiction, nor do I expect a lot of it, but I did like Armada. As someone who came of age in the 1980's, I enjoyed all the references to 80's pop culture, and some of the older sci-fi movies and shows (I confess to being a bit of a Trekkie by marriage). While it was an enjoyable enough read, I did find much of the story pretty predictable and not really all that original, though fairly well written. I did feel the long, detailed descriptions of videogame play were boring and found myself quickly skimming past them; maybe gamers would appreciate them more, but they weren't necessary to the story. I can see this being made into a movie, and it seems it was written with that in mind, as though there are numerous references to pop-culture, the plot does not depend on actual images and clips of many of them, thus making it more feasible to produce without out the licensing entanglements that Ready Player One will involve.
Cline's debut novel was such a hit, very original, well-written and fun, I was afraid Armada would be a huge disappointment. While I don't think it was as good as his first novel or will have quite as wide an appeal since the first was not typical sci-fi and more of a quest or adventure, I still think it is a decent read. I would recommend it for anyone who liked Ready Player One, Ender's Game, or movies such as Independence Day, The Day The Earth Stood Still, or the Star Trek franchise. Also someone into gaming, especially the classics, or other children of the 80's like myself would probably enjoy it well enough. I wouldn't buy it, but it's worth checking out from the library if you're looking for something to read on vacation.
Other Works by This Author
Ready Player One, a quest for a hidden "Easter egg" in a virtual universe soon has real-life consequences.