When my son gifted me with several of the works of Ernest Cline for Christmas last year, I was definitely pleased and interested. After all, I had seen the movie based on Cline’s bestseller, Ready Player One, twice, so I was curious about the story behind the story.
I chose to start with his lesser-known novel, Armada, and was quickly captivated. The basic plot is that of a high school senior, Zach Lightman, who thinks he’s losing his mind because he just happened to see an alien fighter straight out of his favorite videogame flying outside the window of his classroom.
However, from this amusing but inauspicious beginning is a story that combines a coming of age with a classic science fiction/adventure and a sprinkling of romance. Zach discovers quickly that he is not crazy, his boss at Starbase Ace, a videogame store, is actually a field agent for the “fictional” Earth Defense Alliance, also from the game, and here’s the big one, (spoilers!) video games are training tools developed by world governments to prepare citizens to fight against real aliens.
I was quickly reminded of both Tron and Ender’s Game, as true to nature Cline peppers his text with pop cultural references, though this particular book limits those somewhat to science fiction movies and video games, and classic seventies music, more so than in his other works.
As Zach swiftly finds himself recruited to serve in the EDA due to his record high scores on the game boards, he learns of government cover-ups, conspiracies, and even the mystery of his father’s death when Zach was just a baby. He will have to decide for himself just who is right and who is of the wrong opinion, and to what extent he’s willing to go to prove his father’s theories. The fate of the whole world literally hangs in the balance.
I enjoyed the bulk of this book very much. The pacing was good, the action drove the story but there was plenty of bi-play between the various characters to help further the plot. The story only really faltered for me near the end; I thought the resolution contained too much of a science fiction cliché. I think such a good story deserved a more original ending. Still, overall, I think this novel deserves four stars for creativity and humor, as well as all those references that are like a trivia goldmine to science fiction fans.