Since the success of Ready, Player One, Ernest Cline’s become somewhat of a geek hero. Adored by some, envied by many, the DeLorean-driving darling of pop culture was bound to use a similar formula for his next book Armada, which to a certain extent he has.
Zack Lightman is a teenager with some anger issues, obsessed with playing a game of the same name. When he’s not in school he’s “employed” by a local comic book store owner who is equally obsessed and more gaming than business takes place within. Zack also spends his spare time poring over memorabilia and mementos owned by his father who died in a freak industrial accident when he was young.
As a sudden alien invasion threatens the Earth, Zack learns that Armada was a recruitment tool developed by shadow organisations over the years to recruit highly skilled pilots to fly unmanned drones in the event of a war with an alien species discovered many years before.
Cline wastes no time in setting up this premise and the Zack quickly finds himself recruited to the Earth Defence Force tasked with stopping the alien invasion once and for all.
There are more than a few cheeky nods to The Last Starfighter and Ender’s Game here and Cline is making no apologies for it. Indeed he also pulls plot devices and storylines from many other science fiction greats such as Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the sequel 2010. I’m not quite sure how, but he manages to craft this mishmash of storylines into a fairly cohesive story, and while not wildly original by any means, he does do his best to do what he does best – appease the geeks.
There are some problems with how he achieves this however. If Ready, Player One was littered with pop culture references, Armada is an absolute landfill of them. They’re everywhere. You can hardly get through a paragraph without tripping over some reference to a game, movie, TV show or piece of music. Now as a self-confessed geek, I don’t really have a problem with this. Indeed, many of the references in Armada are a lot less obscure than they were in Ready, Player One, but I can’t help feeling that the casual reader may not be so interested and there are some points in the book where it clearly affects the narrative.
There is an increasing trend in certain genres of modern literature, and particularly sci-fi, of authors deliberately writing novels with their eye on that that elusive movie deal as the prize. While Ready, Player One was clearly not written in this manner (I pity Steven Spielberg trying to adapt it, I really do) it’s obvious that this time, Cline has opted to write something more mainstream and structured, with a view to easy adaptation.
That said, Armada is still massively entertaining. Cline’s sharp humour is used to great effect at key moments, the action scenes are brilliantly executed and there are enough memorable characters and plot twists to keep even the most seasoned geek on their toes, while the conclusion hints that we may not have seen the last of Mr. Lightman and paves the way for what could be an interesting series. It’s one of those books you really need to take at face value, sit back, let the author drive, and enjoy the ride.
Available from July 14th