Armada by Ernest Cline

Posted On 6 July 2015

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Just finished reading Armada by Ernest Cline.  I confess that I’ve been waiting for this book for ages! (Or at least it feels that way – you know how it is when you’re really anticipating something so badly).  I really enjoyed Ready Player One, in fact it was a big surprise for me because it really didn’t hold any appeal and I resisted reading it in spite of all the love going round –  so I did wonder how Armada would stand up.  Well, this is without doubt a fun read that will appeal to many readers.  I’m going to be frank and say it didn’t give me quite the same buzz as the first book but even so I enjoyed the ride and found it very entertaining.

The story starts with Zack – a young man, on the brink of finishing his education and with his full life ahead of him – even if he is undecided about what he wants to do with it.  Zack is definitely a dreamer, however, when he finds himself watching a flying saucer darting back and forth through the sky outside his classroom window he definitely snaps awake.  Is he the only one to notice?  And, what??  Is this space ship actually straight out of one of one of the games he plays every night? Kind of freaky!  Either there’s a space ship whizzing through the earth’s atmosphere or Zack is losing the plot! It certainly makes for a compelling start to the story.

I’m going to give a very quick synopsis, and I don’t think this will be spoilery at all!  Basically the alien threat is real.  It’s been real for quite some years and all those conspiracy theories – well, they’re more fact than fiction.  The men in black (not really but you get the picture) are aware of the threat posed and have been preparing us for years for a possible alien invasion by use of film and other media and for years video gamers, playing on space invader type games, have actually been learning how to fight off such an invasion.  Right here is the means of not only training but recruiting top simulator style pilots and Zack is in the top 10.  All his dreams of becoming a hero overnight are about to be realised.

Of course, if it was that easy then this would be a pamphlet and not a novel.  There are a few counter conspiracy theories going around and basically the clock is ticking.  What is the real threat here – that is the big question.

What did I really enjoy about this.  It’s a fairly gripping narrative for the most part (I hold my hands up – a few of the more detailed game parts lost me a little).  I enjoyed the writing and the story and it basically had me at ‘hello’.  There are so many references to songs, movies and games that I frankly lost track and there’s a good deal of humour injected into the story through that very means.  I liked Zack (although there were a couple of occasions where I wanted to shake him just a tiny bit for being whiny) and I thought that Cline does an excellent job of taking just about every sci fi film ever and referencing it here.  And, frankly, I think it’s very cleverly done.  You could spend your time saying this is a rip off of film ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’ – but it isn’t.  It’s supposed to be a big mismash of all these films because basically the authority’s in this book were already aware of aliens, and everything that has been created since their awareness was raised has been with that in mind – so it’s kind of a chicken and egg scenario – is this a take on the films, or are the films a take on the aliens.  it sort of gives a certain amount of carte blanche to the author really which I thought was pretty cool (although I’m not really explaining my thoughts very well in that respect).

What did I think pulled the story back a little – the timeframe.  In one respect it’s this action packed wham bam type of affair, so great in terms of fast pacing and, in a way, I think that the book has been set up almost to read like an early video game with plenty of action and everything over before you even realised it began – and in that respect, again, it’s quite clever.  But, the whole thing takes part in about two days and it feels like there is very little time for anything else.  I wanted more from the characters, a bit more depth and a bit more life going on.  Not boring stuff – I don’t care what Zack ate for breakfast (although, strangely enough, that particular detail was included!), but I would have appreciated a little bit more, particularly about the other characters who for the most part were a bit one dimensional.  ( It’s just so very quick paced that it’s more like reading a graphic novel – without the graphics.  For me, and this is probably one of only a very few times in my life that I’ve said this, but I think this could have been expanded without any detriment.  The time frame could have been lengthened slightly and the characters given more personality and feels.

Criticisms aside, this is without doubt a fun read and it’s a great potential set up for a further book.

So, fun, fast paced, action focused plot with massive appeal in terms of huge doses of pop culture references.

I received a copy of this from the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Just finished reading Ready Player One.  Here is a perfect example of how not to judge a book by it’s cover (or it’s title for that matter).  If I’m going to be honest I would never have picked this book up from either – in fact with the UK version it’s hard to tell what the title actually is!   I sort of picked this up almost begrudgingly and with little expectation that I would like it but I’m really pleased to say it was a very good read.  Entertaining.  Different.  And, a total geek fest – which I just loved. Don’t be fooled by that remark though – this book isn’t exclusively for those that will understand the culture references.

The story is set in the future, although not that far in the future 2040s (ish)  Basically, the planet is in a bad way.  The earth’s natural resources have been seriously depleted.  Famine and poverty are rife.  And people have become addicted to a virtual game called Oasis – it’s an escape from the grimy world they live in at the least and it’s free.  Created by a genius, Halliday, the Oasis is vast, planets and solar systems beyond measure.  Anything seems possible.  And indeed anything is possible as we find out at the start of the story.  Halliday has died and his massive wealth has been bequeathed to whosoever discovers the whereabouts of an Easter Egg hidden within the Oasis.  Three keys must be uncovered that lead to three gates.  We’re talking about some serious cash right here and so of course the entire planet goes berserk trying to find that egg – after about five years of course a lot of people have cooled their ardour – except the really serious hunters – known as gunters and a massive corporation called IOI who are interested in taking over the Oasis and turning it into a money making machine, which means it will no longer be accessible to the masses – not to mention getting their hands on Hallidays stash wouldn’t go amiss.

Okay, I’m not going to try and pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.  I don’t suppose this is going to win any accolades for great writing.  But, I don’t think that matters here.  The story is intriguing, it’s original, insofar as a quest can be, the main character is likeable and it’s a fight between the poor old gunters vs the suits.

What did I like about it?  The characters – they’re not perfect.  Wade is a bit antisocial, he’s overweight, he has acne.  He lives with a family who couldn’t care much less for him and took him on board purely for the extra food vouchers.  He has very little other than his remote buddy Aech and his massive array of knowledge about Halliday.  That’s what I forgot to mention – Halliday was a major 80’s freak and so to win the Egg you’re going to have to know your stuff – everything, arcade games, music, films, everything!  And Wade has been studying hard.  In the Oasis Wade becomes something else.  He has his own avatar – which is pretty much based on himself but maybe a slightly slimmer version with no acne.  He has no money of course so everything is pretty basic for him.  That’s what I like about the start of the story – Wade (or Parzival as his avatar is known) has very little except his wits and he makes it through.  We have Art3mis – who Wade has a little bit of a crush on. Then there’s all the 80s references which I can’t deny are pretty amusing.  Put frankly it’s a bit of a feel good book with a lot of shout outs to the 80s.  Think Willy Wonka meets Indiana Jones all set on the planet Zorg – okay, not quite like that but just a bit.

it’s difficult to describe the setting because you spend very little time in one particular place but jump about all over the place using light speed and other means of dashing round the Oasis.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the author spends quite a bit of time info dumping – you get a lot of detail about how everything works.  Now given that I’m a bit of a stickler for detail I didn’t mind that too much but I did think it slowed certain parts of the book down, for example, haptic suits – stop telling me about the haptic suits already – I get it.  I also have a bit of mixed feelings about the 80s references.  There are all these sort of cool things chucked in here but then the author seems to go to the trouble of explaining them – which I guess is to cover all bets – not everyone will ‘get’ all the 80s references after all.  I suppose I don’t mind to a certain extent although as a bit of a book geek, for example, it makes you feel a little bit robbed!  Like you’ve just read something, got where the author was coming from, and then he’s gone and blurted out the method in the madness.  I suppose I need to get over that though!  Then there’s the fact that Wade/Parzival seemed to turn into like a master hacker/problem solver/hero overnight.  Again, I don’t really mind that because it is a bit of a rags to riches story but it just seemed a little rushed.

Niggles aside, I had really good fun reading this.  It made me laugh, in fact it made me make all sorts of little exclamations and ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ – which gave the people in work a bit of a giggle as well as they watched my reactions whilst I read.  Yes, I raced to the end, my impatience just got the better of me.  It’s not perfect, it’s not full of literary genius but it’s very entertaining.