3.5 / 5
"I was staring out the classroom window and daydreaming of adventure when I spotted the flying saucer."
Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.
But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.
And then he sees the flying saucer.
Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.
No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.
It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?
At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.
Don’t mistake my rating - I did enjoy reading this book. It just wasn’t up to par with Ready Player One for me, which I was just absolutely smitten with. I think part of it had to do with how promisingly Armada began, but then it quickly became war games, full of epic battles which I just kind of glazed over while listening to. (Seriously - I think I missed a few rather turning-point moments during fight scenes because I would drift off!) While the book still has the wonderful, pop culture-y, nostalgic ring to it that RPO does, it just isn’t quite the same.
To that end, I’ve developed a theory: the RPGers vs the FPSes. It is my belief that those who love adventure video games like King’s Quest (have you played the new one yet?! - if not, hop to it!) really enjoyed Ready Player One, and those who prefer more of the Call of Duty/Doom-type games will gravitate more towards Armada. What do you think, Readers? Do you agree? Have some arguments to disprove my hypothesis? Please! By all means, share away. I’d love to discuss further.
In any case, reading the book is well worth it for Wil Wheaton’s incredible voice-acting range. You won’t regret having picked the book up when you hear his Morgan Freeman impression! And the characters are fun: you get a great mix of jumping-off-the-page personalities (even if many of them are endearing tropes) in every chapter. Zack Lightman and his family and friends (both old and new) are people you want to hang out with. I just wish there had been puzzle-solving a la RPO, and less being thrown from one battle scene to another. Granted, that would certainly have changed the entire story! And I liked the concept, as a whole. And of course all the references thrown in. But just know, going into Armada, that you shouldn’t expect RPO. Which I suppose wasn’t fair of me, in the first place. (Apologies, Ernest Cline!) My husband read Armada in a day or two and really enjoyed it. He hasn’t yet cracked RPO. I look forward to seeing his reactions once he’s consumed both.
Until then, I was to underline that I did enjoy reading this book, and I am not trying to warn anyone away from it! I just want a reader’s expectations to be where they should be. Which means: already pretty high, since Cline is a lot of fun and you won’t be disappointed, I don’t think.
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