Updated: Jan 15, 2020
Author Webpage: "Armada" | Ernest Cline
This was 1 of 4 books I gave 5+ stars in 2019. It has a lot of mixed reviews across the intranetosphere - but here me out folks. Since we're all sci-fi lovers. If you're not a sci-fi lover, this is not the blog you're looking for.
Hints of: Ready Player One (obvious), Enders Game, Tron
Warning: If you compare this to Ready Player One in its entirety you'll be sorely disappointed. RPO is one of those I read within hours and sits on my Forever. Period. Shelf. Not the movie though - that was a POS. Boo you, Steven Spielberg, you whore.
From the author of Ready Player One, a rollicking alien invasion thriller that embraces and subverts science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline can.
Zack Lightman has never much cared for reality. He vastly prefers the countless science-fiction movies, books, and videogames he's spent his life consuming. And too often, he catches himself wishing that some fantastic, impossible, world-altering event could arrive to whisk him off on a grand spacefaring adventure.
So when he sees the flying saucer, he's sure his years of escapism have finally tipped over into madness.
Especially because the alien ship he's staring at is straight out of his favorite videogame, a flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting Earth from alien invaders.
I went into this book expecting a Ready Player One sequel. So I put it down about 20 pages. Then I read something else. Then I went back and read 20 more pages. Then I put it down. Then I read something else. Finally - I cleared RPO out of my head.
This book is another devoted tale to lovers of classic video games. But don't let this stop you. Ya girl isn't a video game person. I mean, I played pac-man, space invaders & centipede on Fridays at Rudy's New York Pizza while my parents played trivia. However that about sums it up. I did discover a bad Type A OCD addiction crossover comes out in 2015 when I got slightly competitive at Pokemon Go, leading to a How I Met Your Mother intervention banner from my husband. So I usually steer clear.
In this book, a young boy named Zack lives in a town called Beaverton, Ohio AKA dullsville U.S.A. His dad - Xavier Lightman - died when he was younger, lives with his mother, wants to be anywhere but there. It's got real Luke Skywalker/Tatooine vibes.
Zach loves video games & the characters in them more than reality & the characters in it. I don't blame him - I prefer books to any of ya'll. He plays an intense flight simulator game called - you guessed it - Armada. His screenname is (holla AIM) "IronBeagle" and he's in the Top 10 players in the whole simulation universe.
His boss Ray at the local video game store gives him a fancy set of equipment, he plays a special mission, and the next day *TWIST* the EDA or "Earth Defense Alliance" swoop down onto his high school grounds & take him to a secret base only to discover the aliens he was fighting in the video game were REAL ALL ALONG. SHOOKETH. *ANOTHER TWIST* His boss works for the EDA. He was protecting Zach ALL ALONG. AGAIN. LUKE. SKYWALKER. OBI WAN. VIBES.
Fast Forward. We're at a secret EDA base. There's 72 hours to save all of humanity. There's an attack on the Earth base. EDA must escape. Zach goes to the casual moon base where... XAVIER IS ALIVE. Another Luke Skywalker moment!! Father-Son Bonding. Realization of ongoing crisis. Lockdown the base. Attack Europa. Another escape.
Remember Xavier's conspiracies? Well Xavier & Zach decide this alien race is testing them. So they orchestrate a plan & blow up this massive bomb heading to Europa to kill the aliens. ALAS we eventually find out they are RIGHT. How? An icosahedron (good luck with that one) approaches on behalf of "The Solidarity" - a collection of peaceful planets testing other "less civilized" planets. It deems Zach "Earth's Representative".
Zach accepts. The Solidarity sends aid to the Earth. He's now an Ambassador. There's a hint at a 2nd book to decide if The Solidarity is actually a peaceful ally - like The Mandalorians under Duchess Satine. Who knows? Stay Tuned.
Serious Part of the Review:
There's serious discussions of mental health in this book. Before you discover Zach's dead is alive, Zach consistently hints at thoughts that Xavier was sick & obsessive over games which he thought were a conspiracy theory. In a sense, he blamed his father for his death and leaving his mother Pam and him alone.
While we do discover his father was correct about the conspiracy, in the first chapters Zach wonders if this illness is hereditary, and it is clear these feelings are a large contributing factor to thoughts of working at Ray's store longterm, and not going to college. There was also a strong father-son dynamic with Ray, Admiral Vance and eventually Xavier.
There is also a consistency in Zach's underlying anger management and internalizing of his emotions. As someone who has multiple mental health diagnosis, I think many reviews of this book were shallow and self-serving. They look at the fun throwbacks to Doctor Who, Space Invaders & Starfighter.
What they don't look at is the trials of a young teenager, his void due to an absent father, mental health and ultimately if we as humanity are good. The last 4 - 5 chapters showcase a cous in leadership, who have no trust in a species they don't know. It is 100% what I think will happen if & when we ever encounter an alien race. At least if men are still in the majority of country leadership.
Go into this with the two levels of understanding us dedicated readers & sci-fi lovers must have - an arching plot line that has us looking up vintage games, phrases, etc. But there are deeper plot lines that I think make the book a coming-of-age story every inner nerd will love.
Also By Ernest Cline: Ready Player One (2011)
Drink Pairing: A Gin Rickey (Gin + Lime Juice + Club Soda + Lime Wedge Garnish)