Published by Crown on July 14, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
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.
This is my Twitter profile: “Anxiously awaiting an alien invasion. Or a zombie apocalypse. Either will do.” This is on page 4 of Armada: “I had spent hundreds of hours…silently yearning for the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse.” Zack, the MC, also expresses the desire for humanity to make contact with intelligent alien life sometime during his lifetime, which is a also a desire that I have often expressed. So I was certain from the beginning that I would feel a deep, spiritual bond with Zack. I was also immediately prepared to love this book, and while that didn’t quite happen, I did enjoy it.
I should mention that I have yet to read Ready Player One. (But it’s on my Kindle! I’ll get to it soon!) I had no idea what to expect from Cline’s writing, but what I found, aside from his obvious love of gaming, was how well he depicted Zack’s sense of awe when he learns that Armada, the video game he loves, isn’t a game at all, as well as his desperate need to search for answers.
Zack’s life changes in an instant when a spaceship lands outside his school and summons him aboard. Fortunately, these are not evil aliens. This ship belongs to the Earth Defense Alliance, and they have recruited Zack to join their fight against an impending alien invasion. Even more bizarre, the design of the spaceship and the EDA are both features of his beloved Armada game. Zack’s mind>>>>blown. It turns out that the military has been covertly “training” civilians by releasing games that will allow players to develop their skills to eventually pilot drones in battle against the aliens. The military had been monitoring the best players, and when the time came, they were enlisted into the fight.
Here’s the best thing about Armada: I actually believe this could happen. As I was typing the paragraphs above, I can see how it sounds outlandish, but we already use drones in battle. Now, those drones are usually just dropping bombs on stationary targets, so they probably don’t require much more than for someone to key in the coordinates to send it on its way. But what if our drones were doing battle in the sky against a fleet of enemy alien drones? Is it crazy to think that a teenager who has spent half of his or her life gaming and developing excellent hand/eye coordination would also have the skill to use a gaming-type controller to fight with an actual drone?
I’m less certain about how I feel about Armada’s big reveal. We are all used to books that save the shocking reveal for the closing chapters. Sometimes that works fantastically, and sometimes it seems forced and clumsy. Cline takes a different tactic. There are a few reveals that happen later in the book, but the BIG one is revealed fairly early. For some reasons, this had to happen. Zack was asking himself questions that I was asking myself, and if he wasn’t wondering about these things, it would have felt false for a kid as smart as Zack. I appreciate the fact that Cline did something unexpected, but I can’t help wondering if I would have felt differently about the story if he’d been able to shock me with the reveal at the end. That’s certainly not necessary in order for me to be able to enjoy a book, but it’s always fun with that happened. The one unavoidable negative aspect with the early reveal is that it made the battle scenes less climactic than they would have been otherwise.
With the book’s heavy focus on gaming, you may be wondering if you need to be a gamer to get full enjoyment out of this book. I’d say…probably not. I love video games, but I play RPG’s, not the type of games Zack plays. While this might have helped me to enjoy the book overall, some of the gaming-focused scenes, particularly all of the training, were the least enjoyable. Oh, and, by the way, while I have spent more hours of life than I care to admit playing games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Witcher, and Skyrim, I would never call myself a “gamer.” That’s because I generally suck. In other words, the Earth Defense Alliance will not be knocking on my door anytime soon.
As much as people (including me) wish that kids today would GET OUTSIDE AND PLAY, we may one day be grateful that they’ve been inside getting calluses on their thumbs, and I may get my wish for an alien invasion. (I think I’ll have to give up on the zombie apocalypse, though.)
Note: This review is based on a finished copy provided by the publisher.