‘Armada’ Review

Armada (7 out of 10), Written by Ernest Cline. Crown Publishing. Available 07/14/15′

I don’t want to geek out here, but let me just say that I loved ‘The Last Starfighter’ when I was a kid. I was youngin when it came out, and the video game craze was in full swing. Me and all of my friends wished we could find a game so we could also be recruited to fight battles in space with real (or at least computer-generated) lasers.

The biggest problems with “The Last Starfighter” come as a result of the films era rather than from script flaws. Sure, the effects were rudimentary. Sure the acting was cheesy. Sure the story was corny. And sure, the plot was utterly preposterous. But like I said, for a kid who spent too much time at the video arcades, it was pure cinematic gold. It embraced its derivativeness and ran with it to deliver a fun space opera. A quality it shares with Ernest Clines’ novel. ‘Armada.’

No review of ‘Armada’ would be complete without a mention of Ernest Cline’s debut novel, ‘Ready Player One’ which this is the long-awaited follow-up. Both books share lots in common, mainly a love of video games and all things 80’s. Like RPO, ‘Armada’ has as its hero a teenage boy whose obsession with gaming proves more valuable than expected; in this case, it’s because aliens are about to invade earth, and the highest-scoring players of a video game named Armada – including our protagonist, Zack – are being recruited to fight them.

As with RPO, ‘Armada’ wears its influences for all to see. One of the things I enjoy about Clines writing is that almost feeling of precognition that you’ll appreciate and understand if you are familiar with pop culture references and the movies and games he uses. The similarities with ‘Ender’s Game’ especially aren’t hidden away from the reader. Cline acknowledges it all the way through, and even if – like me – you reach the reveal towards the middle of the book and assume you know where the story is going, you probably don’t. It flirts with grand questions that affect all mankind while also paying tribute to the small things that define us as individuals. Fans won’t be let down, there are some twists and turns along the way made the narrative move along in an otherwise linear story with a discernible climax and ending neatly tied up in a bow, but not in the way you’d predict. The pacing was so quick that I felt compelled to read on. Most of the action of the book takes place in 24 hours.

The film rights to Armada were sold a full three years (!) before its publication, reportedly on the basis of a 20-page proposal, and it’s easy to believe the whole thing was written with a movie in mind. Absolutely nothing about it is going to need to be changed – the set-pieces, the dialogue, the meticulously detailed weapons and spaceships, even the way the characters’ body language and facial expressions are described; it’s so much like a sci-fi/action blockbuster, so easy to picture, that it could be a novelization of an existing film. Indeed, I think many of these things would/will be better on screen than on the page. Once it got going, this was what carried it along. I imagined it as being very ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’, sans raccoon.

I have heard a bunch of negative chatter about ‘Armada’ being wish fulfillment. Of course it is, but it’s such harmless wish fulfillment. I could no more hate this book than I could hate an enthusiastic puppy. I wanted escapism, and it delivered escapism. A slice of heaven for geeks & gamers alike.


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