With his breakthrough novel ‘Ready Player One’ about to hit the big screen as a Steven Spielberg directed movie adaptation, I felt it was about time I checked out the Ernest Cline’s follow up, Armada.
Whilst Ready Player One is an action packed, roller coaster of a story, crammed to the gills with pop-culture reference, Armada is grotesquely lacking in depth, imagination and execution.
Borrowing conceptually from a number of varying sources Armada revolves around protagonist, Zack Lightman, an 18 year old video game enthusiast from small-town America whose father had died in an accident at work before he could even know him. Raised by a cool single mum – who’s never stopped loving her high school sweetheart – Zack whiles away his time working at a second hand video game store, or playing his favourite space based shoot-em-up, ‘Armada’.
A troubled student, prone to a violent temper, Zack is forced to consider his own sanity when one day he sees an alien spacecraft from the game – for real.
Thus begins a story where a young man is plucked from a mundane life to become an ace pilot in the secretive ‘Earth Defence Alliance’. Unwittingly, the world has been in training through video games to take on an imminent and deadly alien invasion.
It’s not that the premise isn’t all that original that bothers me about this book. It’s pretty much everything else.
Cline’s piecing together of the story is so ‘by numbers’ that it’s almost impossible not to predict the next beat of the story with each new plot point revealed. His writing style is basic throughout to the point that it’s insulting to, what is presumably, a young adult target audience.
Assuming that presumption is correct, the constant slew of dated pop-culture references seem beyond the radar of most young adults. Odd too is Cline’s insistence at constantly referring to Zack’s, father’s ‘Old Raid the Arcade mixtape’. A reference to music can obviously help set a scene in a reader’s imagination. It’s not necessary for a book to come with a ’70s rock soundtrack, and breaking from the action to update readers on which Queen track was playing in Zack’s headphones soon becomes tiresome.
My biggest gripe is the complete lack of trepidation or drama. At no point do you feel like the situation is impossible to overcome. In fact, the conclusion is telegraphed a handful of chapters before the final page.
Filled with unconvincing coincidences where things just happen to work out, the right people are in the right place at just the right time with the right skills to hack/manipulate a situation in favour of Zack and his allies… It’s just plain boring.
In all of the ways that ‘Ready Player One’ made me fall in love with it for being a riveting, complex geekgasm of a read, Armada is distinctly lacking.