Book Review – ‘Armada’ by Ernest Cline

Sci-fi geek nostalgia abounds!

Armada Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 372

From Goodreads:

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?

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This book managed to recapture the child in me. I had been obsessed with sci-fi pop culture in the ‘80’s, dreamed of being teleported away to fight in some all-stakes space war and arise the victor. ‘Armada’ delivered on all fronts.

There have been some not so great reviews accusing Ernest Cline of ripping off some popular movies to construct the plot for ‘Armada,’ and well, while there are heavy influences of their storytelling, ‘Armada’ is still a creature of its own, yet stays true to the genre. You could say that about most of the sci-fi from that era… they were all a bit formulaic and followed the same rules. Having said that, I think many readers missed that this is an homage to that type of storytelling. I mean there are huge flashing neon signs pointing to that along the way with copious references to video games, tv shows, movies, scientists, historical events. You’d have to be an idiot to assume Cline intentionally ripped off famous pop culture stories to repackage it as his own. This novel follows the same vein as the ‘Scream’ franchise spoofing common horror tropes.

In that respect, the story is somewhat predictable and we get less surprises because the plot is following a well-known route. To counter that we get the saturation of images from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s to connect with the reader and create interest. The novel is meant to feel familiar. It was such a nostalgic read for me and definitely brought forward cherished memories. But I can’t help wishing there had been some more surprises or plot twists to give ‘Armada’ a touch more individuality – much like ‘Ready Player One’ managed to achieve.

Zack is the quintessential hero protagonist from this genre. A teen having lost his father in mysterious circumstances, driven into a world of escapism to deal with the loss – developing unprecedented skills with computer game simulations. Those skills lead him to be recruited into a clandestine army being raised to fight off an alien threat. Zack gives the impression that he is intelligent beyond his years early on, he questions things, forms his own assumptions, and it was refreshing to see he wasn’t some maverick with a chip on his shoulder or a superior-pleasing army savant. He was easy to relate to and didn’t feel two dimensional.

Armada Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I will say the book is a bit slow at the beginning, taking the time to set up the scene, the story, and the characters. The pacing and tension only really start to build in the last third of the novel. I’d like to say I wish this was paced a little faster, but in hindsight, it would not have worked for ‘Armada’ or the protagonist.

Clines writing style was magnificent, there were moments his short descriptive sentences painted worlds of sensation, and the pop culture references and slang rang true to the genre. Though if you are not a fan of the ‘80’s or classic elements in sci-fi culture and gaming, much of the stories elements will be lost on you.

If I was being nit-picky, I’d say there wasn’t enough character development on the secondary cast members – but, given the slow burn of plot and tension, if Cline had spent more time exploring these characters, the pace of ‘Armada’ would have been laboriously slow.

Overall, I really enjoyed ‘Armada’ it was the perfect nod to a geeky childhood of a sci-fi nerd. But recommend this more for enthusiasts – if you don’t’ get subtext and nuances of what this story is about, and why it has been written – then you will not understand the brilliance of ‘Armada.’

After the treatment ‘Ready Player One’ received on the big screen, and now ‘Armada’ in in development to become a film, I am really excited to see how this turns out and will be first in line at the box office. Though I’m still holding my breath. With many remakes on their way this movie would have to be released at a key moment so as not to clash with some of the re-imagined classics that it is inspired from.

Overall feeling: Had me playing battleships in the back yard with my little brother all over again.

Armada Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Armada Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Book Review – ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

It’s like television, an arcade, and the internet were mashed together – and you get to live there!

Ready Player One Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 372

From Goodreads:

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

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I had so much fun reading this book – the 80’s pop culture references, the inclusion of snippets around the origin of gaming… and a little exploration of social injustice. It turned out to be way more adventurous and inciteful than I was expecting.

Ready Player One’ was also more violent than I was expecting. Which was a good thing for the story. It really put some high stakes on the line. I was totally wrapped up in this futuristic universe.

One thing with all the pop culture references – not everyone is going to get them all, or understand the lengthy list of computer models and old model gaming consoles. So, while I appreciated the nostalgia of the references, at times I felt out of the loop, not geeky enough to fully understand the narrative. It made me sad, like my nerd status had been revoked. These moments that pulled me from immersion of ‘Ready Player One’ did not detract from my enjoyment of the story however, just moments of brow furrowing and googling for information. So if you don’t have an extensive knowledge of 80’s culture and gaming, you may find the endless list of name dropping tedious.

I marvelled at the growth and development of our protagonist Wade/Percival. His dedication, loyalty, and commitment grew organically through the length of the novel. Even though those traits were there to begin with, you see them move centre stage and become his driving force. It’s what had me relating and investing in his story. So too was his romance with Art3mis. We all want the geek to get the girl… even though it felt a little disconnected with the story, not entirely needed, I loved the inclusion and how it helped to humanise Wade and give him a connection to the outside world. The Oasis virtual reality had just about swallowed him up and she was the next adventure after he was to find a way through his online quest.

Ready Player One Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The pacing was great – I think most of the book was a page turner for me. Some moments where Cline started prattling off specifics, or info-dumped a bit of history, or backstory, killed the momentum, but on the whole it’s the most engaged I’ve been in a while. I didn’t have a lot of free time to read, but when I did it was very easy to slip back in to. There was no confusion about who was who, or where the story was going. It was pure entertainment.

I enjoyed the subtext of ‘avatar perception vs real life’ – a comment on the possibilities of where we could be headed and how thing like ‘catfishing’ is happening more regularly.

The plot is fairly simple – it reads like a quest for a video game – and it’s intentional, so in that sense it’s fairly predictable. Though I found a lot of sub-plots and roadblocks delightfully surprising and entertaining. I’m looking forward to the film interpretation masted by Steven Spielberg, with Tye Sheridan playing Wade, slated for a March 30, 2018 release. *squee*

Highly recommend. Cline paints a colourfully graphic world, addressing issues we are facing now as we grow with technology, and with all the pop culture references, it’s like nerd porn.

Overall feeling: It’s like my brain exploded from all the references to childhood favourites.

Ready Player One Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Ready Player One Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.