Monday, July 13, 2015

ARC Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

Title: Armada
Author: Ernest Cline
Published: July 14, 2015 by Random House
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: 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.

**** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher at BEA in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion. ****

It is always so hard when you read the second book by an author whose debut you loved so much. You not only have insanely high expectations but you cannot help but compare that book to this one. That was exactly what happened to me when I started reading Armada by Ernest Cline. I love Ready Player One so much that I was not only scared but nervous to read Armada. I'm happy to say that I was not at all disappointed. Despite not being blown away I really enjoyed Armada. It was an action-packed science fiction read with great characters.

Armada feels like a classic science fiction novel. I'm kind of glad I didn't pay that much attention to the synopsis of the book. I'm not a fan of the alien invasion plot lines, they freak me out. I have an irrational fear of aliens and a lot of the plot of this, especially in the beginning, set off those triggers. But like I said, I'm glad I ignored that and read it because the book was everything I love about science fiction. What Ernest Cline does so well is appeal to geek subculture with subtle nods to classic stories in the genre. I'm a space opera kind of girl and while it wasn't quite a space opera but it did have enough elements of that subgenre to keep me entertained and reading. The technology, the adventure, the humor. He really takes it to the next level here by making all of our favorite books, movies, and video games as part of a conspiracy theory.  It also had subtle nods to the virtual reality kind of story that R.P.O. did so well. And while it felt similar to some favorite stories and genres it was still a creative book all it's own.

And that story was a thrilling and fast-paced adventure. From the word go, this book takes you on a non-stop high stakes end of the world kind of plot that had me on the edge of my seat. You guys know that I am a plot-driven reader and this book absolutely did not disappoint in that department. Everything moved seamlessly from moment to moment and despite the incredibly short timeline of the book, I think it took place over only a few days, things flowed brilliantly. And like I said, I seriously could not put it down. I found myself turning page after page needing to know what happened next and before I knew it, the book was over and I was left with a book hangover I would not have expected when I started reading the book. It also wasn't particularly mysterious but had some amazing plot twists that left me reeling and needing to find out what would happen next. If you are looking for a fast-paced and action packed read, you have come to the right place. 

But the overall emphasis on plot development sacrificed a bit of world building for me. I loved Cline's world building in Ready Player One, but here I felt like it could have been a little bit better. Now don't get me wrong, the actual world was fantastic and engaging with an intricate exploration of the technology involved in communicating and fighting an alien race but the world-building felt a little tell instead of show. But I'm not even really talking about that, I'm talking about the larger context of the story. And maybe that was also because I loved the larger themes about humanity in Ready Player One and I didn't get them in Armada until the very end so that it felt like an afterthought. But that meat there was also a handful of info-dumps and then just a general lack of explanation about what was happening. Although I get it, the world is about to end and there is no time for pesky exposition, we have to get down to brass tacks. I think if the pacing was just a tad slower and we got a little bit more time to build up the larger context of the book it would have been a solid 5 star read for me on Goodreads.

But the hardest thing for me to explain about Armada is the character development. Don't get me wrong, I loved the characters here. Ernest Cline definitely knows how to write relateable and likable geek characters. Zack Lightman in particular was a fantastic character. He's kind of a cocky little jerk both behind the video game controller and in real life. But I understood why he was like that. He's fiercely concerned about standing up for the people he cares about and will do all kinds of rash things to take care of them. He's been through a lot in his young life and you can't help but root for him. But I also really liked his friends Diehl and Cruz (who's call sign is Kvothe which brought me all kinds of joy) who are absolutely hilarious despite kind of being cliche nerds. Same thing goes for the characters he meets when he joins the EDA. They are a little bit stereotypical but in an endearing sort of way. I think gamers and geeks of all kinds will find a bit of themselves in these characters. But again, I felt like the focus on the plot development made it so that we didn't get much character development. And I was all ready to say that the lack of character development meant the book didn't have as much heart, but despite wanting more of an emotional connection between the characters it did give me the feels like crazy.

Armada was a thrilling and action-packed read that didn't blow my mind but took me for a fantastic ride. Ernest Cline has once again proven that he knows how to create the perfect read for the geek and nerd in all of us with great characters and tons of page-turning action. Despite wanting more world-building and character development, it was a great read.

I give Armada by Ernest Cline 9 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. If you loved Ready Player One you will probably also love this book despite it being a little different. If you are looking for something with more heart and character development then maybe pass. But if you're a big science fiction fan into the alien invasion end of the world kind of stories than definitely check this one out.

Read this if you liked:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Insignia Trilogy by S.J. Kincaid
The Martian by Andy Weir

Have you read Armada? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. I haven't read this book yet. My husband and I are big Wil Wheaton fans, so we're waiting for the audiobook. Wil did such a great job with Ready Player One that it seemed like the way to go for this book as well. Great review! I'm so excited for this book. I also don't like alien invasions. The movie Fire In The Sky freaked me out as a teen. I hope I can handle this book.

    1. I was planning to wait for the audiobook but because I listened to and loved Ready Player One, which Wil Wheaton narrated, I figured I would read this one to limit the comparison. But I'm sure it's great and I hope you love it. I can't wait to check out your review.

  2. I'm so glad to see that you loved this one! I read Ready Player One forever ago and I loved it so much. I really want to check it out because I loved Ernest Cline's writing! Great review!
    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

    1. I love Ernest Cline's writing as well. This is very much reminiscent of Ready Player One but it's different enough to feel creative. I liked Ready Player One a little more but this one is great. I hope you enjoy it.

  3. I haven't read any of Ernest Cline's books, but I really want to start with his Ready Player One... Glad that you enjoyed this one, it doesn't make me doubt his other books! :)

    1. Ready Player One is great, I definitely recommend it. Armada is also really fantastic. They're very different. This is more hard sci-fi and Ready Player One is more dystopia. I hope you read them both and enjoy!