Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Book Review: 'Armada' by Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline's follow up novel to 'Ready Player One' hits some of the same beats as before, with lots of Sci-Fi and gaming references but, at least for me, it lacked the charm of RPO.

'Armada' also treads the same path as 'The Last Starfighter' and 'Ender's Game', almost becoming a combination of both (and being an Ernest Cline book, of course both properties are mentioned), where our protagonist, Zack Lightman, is unwittingly recruited by the EDA (the Earth Defense Alliance), after becoming one of the best players of the best selling video game 'Armada', which, unbeknownst to the millions of players who play the game, and its ground assault counterpart 'Terra Firma', is actually a real life simulation for a war with an alien race.

It's certainly fast paced, and almost feels rushed to get through the preamble of setting up the characters and story as quickly as possible to get to the main event. As a result there didn't seem to be too much build up to the war that Zack and the other new recruits find themselves enlisted in, as no sooner do they arrive at EDA HQ and go through a briefing, there isn't much time for the characters to digest what they've just been told (and when they do it's in pop culture references instead of real emotional context), as they are suddenly under attack. It's only when Zack gets transferred to another base, do things slow down for a bit, taking time to draw breath and push on with a few plot points, before we're back into the throng once again with another alien attack. Unfortunately this means that the characters that Zack meets aren't explored with too much depth, and some are only introduced briefly before we move on with the story. Because of this, I found I only had some kind of emotional attachment to some of the characters and didn't really care about the rest.

'Armada' reads like an homage to science fiction and to video games, with many (and by many I mean A LOT!) either directly mentioned or have elements quoted from. Now I don't mind a bit of nerdiness, being a big fan of Sci-Fi myself, but instead of being liberally sprinkled with geek references, it's much more heavy handed and almost got a bit too much at times, especially in the early stages - there's even an actual list of movies and games early on - so much so that I seriously thought about marking this one down as a DNF! But I persevered and gradually enjoyed the story that was hidden amongst the references.

'Armada', treads similar territory to Cline's previous novel, and was still enjoyable at times, but I felt it was spoilt by the overuse of the many references that were woven into the story. If you enjoy science fiction and gaming, and don't mind an over saturation of Sci-Fi pop culture references, then you'll probably enjoy this book.