Sometimes in life you just get so excited that you set yourself up for disappointment. Your imagination sets the bar so high that you make it impossible for reality to measure up to your expectations. This has happened to me a few times in my life; my first trip to Paris, the fourth Indiana Jones Movie, Star Wars Episode 1, bacon flavored vodka, the list goes on. And it happened to me again when I sat down to read Ernest Cline’s second novel Armada. Hopefully by now you’ve read Mr. Cline’s Ready Player One which can best be described as a nerdgasm in paperback form. Seriously if you’ve managed to stumble upon this blog full of recommendations without having read it I can’t imagine a better recommendation to give you than that one.
Unfortunately I can’t say the same thing about Armada. While Ready Player One seamlessly wove pop culture references into an imaginative story and used nerdy Easter eggs to enrich the fabric of the world it inhabited Armada uses those same references to justify its unoriginality. It’s as if Cline believes if he name drops The Last Starfighter enough we will excuse him for blatantly ripping it off. It is inevitable to compare an author’s second novel to their first and a good critic should try to resist the temptation but Cline’s empty attempt to reclaim past glory makes it impossible not to reference his previous work.
The main character in Armada is a high school student who also happens to be one of the best players in the world at the titular video game. When real life aliens descend upon the planet it’s up to this high school and a bunch of other highly ranked video game enthusiasts to save the day. Oh he also meets his dream girl who is also really into video games and gets all of his pop culture references. Look out Zooey Deschanel there’s a new textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girl coming for your crown. But wait there’s a twist to this Alien invasion. A twist that is so blatantly telegraphed it may as well have been sent by Western Union.
Like I said at the top of this post I came into Armada with high expectations. I didn’t expect it to be great literature destined to be taught in high school English classes for decades to come but I did expect it to be original and clever. A quick, fun read that would indulge the reader’s inner nerd. Unfortunately the only person who seemed to be indulged was Mr. Cline. I suppose I shouldn’t throw stones. After all I know just how hard writing genre fiction can be. But I cannot overlook massive problems in the areas of storytelling and character development. The former being derivative and the latter being non-existent.
If you’re a voracious reader Armada will cost you five hours and leave you feeling “meh”. If it takes you longer than that to read a book than you’re better of re-reading Ready Player One than wasting your time with this outing. Maybe if I hadn’t seen what Cline was capable of I wouldn’t be this hard on him but I did and so I’m going to be. And if you still want to pick up Armada after reading all this then you can find it In Stores Now.