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 – ‘Just a Geek’ by Wil Wheaton

A look into the fandom behind Star Trek, redefining identity and growing up.

Just a Geek Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Non Fiction, Autobiography

No. of pages: 267

From Goodreads:

Wil Wheaton has never been one to take the conventional path to success. Despite early stardom through his childhood role in the motion picture “Stand By Me,” and growing up on television as Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Wil left Hollywood in pursuit of happiness, purpose, and a viable means of paying the bills. In the oddest of places, Topeka, Kansas, Wil discovered that despite his claims to fame, he was at heart “Just a Geek.” In this bestselling book, Wil shares his deeply personal and difficult journey to find himself. You’ll understand the rigors, and joys, of Wil’s rediscovering of himself, as he comes to terms with what it means to be famous, or, ironically, famous for once having been famous. Writing with honesty and disarming humanity, Wil touches on the frustrations associated with his acting career, his inability to distance himself from Ensign Crusher in the public’s eyes, the launch of his incredibly successful web site, wilwheaton.net, and the joy he’s found in writing. Through all of this, Wil shares the ups and downs he encountered along the journey, along with the support and love he discovered from his friends and family. The stories in “Just a Geek” include: Wil’s plunge from teen star to struggling actor. Discovering the joys of HTML, blogging, Linux, and web design. The struggle between Wesley Crusher, Starfleet ensign, and Wil Wheaton, author and blogger. Gut-wrenching reactions to the 9-11 disaster. Moving tales of Wil’s relationships with his wife, step-children, and extended family. The transition from a B-list actor to an A-list author.

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Being close to the same age as Wil Wheaton, and growing up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, reading ‘Just a Geek’ was a little like flipping through my own photo album. There were a lot or parallels: I too was a big nerd, loved all things computer-orientated and writing… but the similarities ended there.

Just a Geek Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleThe tone of ‘Just a Geek’ is witty and charming. It’s easy to relate to with Wil’s honesty and detailed histology of acting and the movie industry. Not to mention Conventions and the etiquette involved. You can peek under the polished, candy-coated façade that Hollywood puts on everything and see the politics, back-room negotiations, and marketing ploys the Powers That Be pull in order to churn out the next million dollars or so: and the participants (actors) are merely fodder for the machine. But that is the bleakest part – and it rightly so causes depression and anxiety for someone who is trying to make a living and provide for a family.

But on the other hand you see a community form. And said community starts to depict the terms to the industry – it felt like a nerd revolution. I really enjoyed reading all of the mechanics that make up the Trekkie-dom.

I was expecting a bit more about the Wheaton family, more anecdotes, and some more about his acting jobs. Plus, I wanted to hear more about his writing other than WWdN… but this was published over ten years ago, and likely that didn’t really exist then. But ‘Just a Geek’ is a fun juxtaposition to where Wil Wheaton has now become a much larger celebrity and acted in many other fandoms like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Eureka.’ Plus all those picture memes with Will Wheaton heads on everything has me in stitches every time. He’s evolved from the adult that has finally embraced his Wesley-dom, a Wheaton movement.

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While his narrative is amusing – I wouldn’t call it gut-busting. I guess you had to be there. What I’ve seen from him on screen, he is quite the hilarious character, and can guess the descriptions of his improv troupe don’t do them justice.

It was a lovely trip down memory lane, though I must admit, at times his writing felt a bit dry and repetitive – it is still very entertaining and offers great insight to not only the movie industry, but the human spirit. Honestly I’d love to read something of his that is not a memoir, the mechanics of his writing suggest there is a great talent there.

An easy autobiography to read, but if you weren’t a Star Trek fan I don’t think you would get much from this novel – because it primarily deals with Wheaton redefining his relationship to the character Wesley Crusher he played on the series, growing up, and developing a different approach to the industry while being a husband and father. But if anything ‘Just a Geek’ shows Wil Wheaton for the extraordinary human being he is. Intelligent, hilarious, compassionate and a loving family man.

Overall feeling: Oh my stars!

Just a Geek Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Just a Geek Book Review Pic 07 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.

Did that just happen?

How I inadvertently binge watched ‘Stranger Things’

Stranger Things Binge Watching Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleI came across this show from a trailer posted on YouTube, and downloaded the entire series from Netfix a few days after its release. I was interested in the story, it looked like a spooky mystery with a bunch of kids, where one goes missing. Plus it’s got Winona Ryder attached to it, so I was sold.

With intentions of watching the first episode, and spreading out the series over the following weeks, I sat down with a cuppa and jumped in… and was completely hooked. Fat chance on waiting another day to find out what happens. I needed the next episode now! And the next one! So I ended up binge watching the entire series in a day.

It has that 90’s horror movie nostalgia, complete with opening title sequence and mood music soundtrack. I thought it might be spoony or camp, but it adds a little something to the production.

It was fantastic.

Elements of Stephen King and Dean Koontz have a strong influence, so if you enjoy their novels, this tv show is for you.

I’ve since read some other articles around this production online, showing the intension of the Creators: shots mirroring films such as ‘E.T. the Extraterrestrial,’ ‘Stand by Me’, and ‘Goonies’ and other cult favourites. There is a boatload of subliminal aspects to this series which bring up sense memories to the 80’s and 90’s, that, having grown up in that era, there was nothing I could do but love ‘Stranger Things.’

Apart from Winona Rider giving her usual stellar performance, Millie Bobby Brown is jaw-droppingly amazing. I remember seeing her creepy performance in ‘Intruders’ and thinking she possessed a maturity beyond her years; and in this show her range blew my mind. I’m expecting big things from her career.

The characters are colourful and have their own backstories and motivations, the plot gave me plenty of surprises and I love where this story took me. I am hopefully optimistic that we will get to see more from this franchise, and I can get to spend another day on the couch with jumbo sized popcorn and get lost in a great show and nostalgia.

It was produced in the format more-or less like a (long) movie, and if the series is renewed, Creators Matt and Ross Duffer have said that it would be like watching a sequel. Which is why I think this show is so addictive. It doesn’t drag things out to fill in 22 episodes. It’s tells a compact and engaging story that wraps up nicely giving the viewer the pay-off they are craving. So if you haven’t seen it yet – get your hands on a copy, its well worth it.

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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.

Book Review – ‘Chase’ by Dean Koontz

Psychological Stalker from the ‘70’s – still has good bones.

Chase Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Horror, Thriller

No. of pages: 244

From Goodreads:

Ben Chase is a war hero with bitter memories. Vietnam left him with a hard drinking habit, a mental breakdown–and massive guilt.

So who will believe him when he swears a psychopath is out to get him? When society is sick, the mad are sane–and persecution is a killer’s game…   

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Chase’ has a slight air of misogyny and sexism, popular for its time – written in 1972 – and felt like it was influenced by detective novels and early Stephen King. Many characters felt stereotyped and had a level of stupidity. Nowadays, Koontz’s characters are much more complex, and objectification handled intelligently. But in revisiting Koontz’s early works, it still stood up to giving me the hee-bee-gee-bees.

Chase’ was published under another name (K.R. Dwyer) when it was initially released.

Ben Chase is a medically discharged soldier tackling PTSD who happened across, and intervened in a murder at a local make-out/lookout point. Consequently, the killer gets away, and his attentions are turned onto Chase himself. The murderer, calling himself ‘The Judge’ chooses his victims who he deems worthy of being judged and executed… now ‘The Judge’ has found Chase worthy of death from his past discretions.

There is play on whether Chase is imagining much of this predicament due to his mental condition, but I think it wasn’t utilised enough in the story line and could have been executed better.

Introduction of Glenda, a love interest for Chase, humanised our protagonist and made the book immensely more enjoyable. I was beginning to dislike Chase somewhat and found him difficult to relate to (though I am not the demographic for this novel) and wish she’d been introduced earlier to soften the rough edges, bringing some emotion in earlier to the plot line.

Maybe because I’ve read widely in this genre for the past 30 years, and a considerable number of Koontz’s later books, the plot was very predictable. It also failed to give me that shiver that I get from many of his titles. But for its lack in scare tactics, it makes up for in pacing – things amped up after the half way mark and I really started to enjoy ‘Chase.

I can see precursors of elements that appear in his later novels, many of which are favourites (and have been turned into films) and how much Koontz has grown as a storyteller.

I’d only recommend this for hard core Dean Koontz fans – the story is a little dated and generic. There are far more enjoyable titles in his current catalogue. But I have to admit I revelled in the nostalgia, it reminded me of the television and movies of the early 80’s

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Spoilers:

A couple of points that I found distasteful, was the message that homosexuals are evil and paedophiles – a trend of the time before realising its discriminatory nature. And I’m not sure about the justified homicide angle, it was dark and trite. But that’s just me and my opinion…

Overall feeling: Rotary Telephone, Cathode ray tube, records, old and obsolete but still enjoyable.

Chase Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Chase Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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.