Cline puts his imagination to the test again in his second novel, creating another character obsessed with video games and 80s culture in a modern world, except this time there are aliens!
A brief disclosure before you begin reading this review: I did not like Armada, and I am going to be honest throughout. Please don’t assume I’m being mean for the sake of being mean, but I haven’t been this disappointed since I didn’t receive my letter from Hogwarts (14 years ago).
The excitement level I had for this book was through the roof. Ready Player One is my favorite book and the one I recommend to everyone who enjoys science fiction, video games, or is a reluctant reader. I loved Ernest Cline’s writing style in RPO, and I expected nothing but the best from him in his second novel. After hearing about the content of Armada and seeing the cover art, I was intrigued, although, I felt a sense of déjà vu after reading the synopsis. I thought the cover was clean and modern, and I couldn’t wait to add it to my shelves. If you were to ask anyone who knows me, they would tell you I had been waiting all year for July to come around so I could finally read Ernie’s next book. I had it pre-ordered and waited in heavy anticipation for what I was sure to be my next favorite. A friend of mine who also loved Ready Player One read the ARC a month before its release and came to me with disappointing news. He had decided to not even finish the book, which struck me as strange. “Really, is this your only trick?” he questioned Ernie. After several of my friends completed it and gave it poor reviews, I stayed hopeful, trusting Ernie would not let me down. Then, I read it for myself, and I was let down.
I knew going into Armada it had much lower ratings than RPO. I didn’t let it get to me, though, and I tried to ignore the warning signs and enjoy it without being influenced by my friends’ negative reviews about it. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t begin to like it. That sense of déjà vu was for good reason; I felt like I was reading a more descriptive version of Ender’s Game, only it was much worse and felt rushed. The bridge between Armada and Ender’s Game is a solid one. Zack resembles Ender Wiggin, who also can’t contain his rage against his bullies. They’ve both been prepped their entire lives to destroy aliens and hired by our very own U.S. Government to save the world. Defeating aliens is not a new concept in video games, movies, or books, but some plots have already been done and don’t need to be done again.
Another mirror image I noticed was the similarities between Xavier Lightman and Halliday from RPO. Now, trust me, I tried not to compare RPO and Armada, but the lack of differences was overwhelming. Halliday is almost a father figure for Wade, who has no father. Wade invests all of his time into learning about the 80s culture in order to win the contest, and similarly, Zack immerses himself into his father’s left behind 80s era possessions in order to get to know him. Both obsessions make sense, but in RPO it is done so much better. Cline rifles through 80s terminology as if he’s a dictionary, referencing hundreds of titles in RPO. For every three or four references, I’d only heard of one. After reading each chapter I felt more educated on the decade I’d just missed. In Armada there are fewer references, and the titles mentioned are much more catered to the mass media. I don’t need to hear 20 Star Wars references or quotes from Yoda. I’ve seen those enough times, thank you. With these types of references, I just assumed Cline didn’t want to put in the effort to go there for the die hard 80s kids. Again, disappointing in that regard.
One major complaint, although not the biggest, was the timing. The book was evenly paced, but I had trouble suspending my disbelief for the amount of time it took everyone to travel. If it took 40 minutes to get to the moon, the travelers would be liquid. I don’t believe we will ever have the technology to create anti-inertia shuttles for this speed. Yes, I know sci-fi has been going into warp and light speed for a long time, but Armada wants me to believe we have this technology available now, and I just can’t do it. The entire book takes place within 24 hours, too.
The biggest complaint I have is what pushed me over the edge and made the book completely unenjoyable. It’s a cheesefest.
I can only handle so many cliches, Ernie. Not everyone in every book you write should be obsessed with the 80s. Zack Lightman’s obsession I can understand, but all of the Moon Base Alpha’s soldiers as well as Lex Larkin being obsessed, please. “It’s time to save the world.” Really? It’s save-the-world-o’clock? This line should not be in your book. Also, this is an action book. Romance is a part of life, but the chances of four or five couples falling for one another at first sight is incredulous.
I know my review is harsh, and negativity like this is unlike me, but I know Ernie can do better than this. I would not hesitate to pre-order his next book, and Ready Player One remains to be my favorite book of all time. I have lost some respect for Cline because of the carelessness put into Armada, but I won’t let that stop me from being a fan. In fact, the Tome Raiders are getting ready to meet him at a book signing this Thursday. As for his latest, I would not recommend it for the lactose intolerant due to the extreme cheese factor.