Four Letter Nerd

4LN Book Review: Armada, by Ernest Cline

Ever since I read the last page of Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One, I couldn’t wait to read whatever he wrote next.  Ready Player One, which has already begun being adapted for film directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, is best described by fellow science-fiction writer John Sclazi who said that it was a “nerdgasm… imagine Dungeons & Dragons and an ’80’s arcade made hot, sweet love, and their child was raised in Azeroth.”  That might not give you an actual description of the book, but it sure does sum up how I feel about it.  When Cline’s second novel, Armada, was announced I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

Ernest_Cline_DeLorean

Ernest Cline with his Delorean nicknamed “Ecto-88”

Summary from Ernest Cline’s website:

It’s just another day of high school for Zack Lightman. He’s daydreaming through another boring math class, with just one more month to go until graduation and freedom—if he can make it that long without getting suspended again.

Then he glances out his classroom window and spots the flying saucer.

At first, Zack thinks he’s going crazy.

A minute later, he’s sure of it. Because the UFO 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.  

But what Zack’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.

Yet even as he and his new comrades scramble to prepare for the alien onslaught, Zack can’t help thinking of all the science-fiction books, TV shows, and movies he grew up reading and watching, and wonder: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little too… familiar? 

Armada 
is at once 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 author Ernest Cline’s trademark pop-culture savvy.

Armada is a love letter to everything nerdy about the ’80’s.  Cline’s love of the geekdom of this period is evident and infectious.  While reading this book I felt compelled to watch The Last Starfighter, Conan the Barbarian, and the original Star Wars.  I also listened to a few of the tracks from the amazing “Raid the Arcade” mixtape (songs include “Danger Zone,” “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” and “Black Betty” just to name a few) frequently referenced by Zack Lightman, the story’s protagonist.  The good news is this movie is also already in the process of being adapted for film by Universal so there is a good chance we will get the ’80’s equivalent of the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack.

Cline’s writing style is fantastic.  The story is told through sarcastic first-person with the book’s protagonist, 18 year old super-nerd Zack Lightman, as the narrator.  It’s easy to read, and the story itself is just fascinating.  Certain elements remind me of a mixture of Ender’s Game (one of my favorite books of all time) and The Last Starfighter, with a dash of The Truman Show and 2001: a Space Odyssey towards the end.  The nerd pop culture references hit early and often. In fact, I am glad I finally watched The Last Starfighter before reading this book because it helped me to pick up a few more of the references scattered throughout the novel.

The story is made all the better by having a really strong cast of characters.  Zack Lightman is a hilarious narrator, and his struggle to connect with his father who died when he was a barely a toddler adds some gravitas to the character.  Zack and his best friends Cruz and Diehl are your typical nerds/geeks who spend their free time arguing about fictional universes and playing video games.  Cruz and Diehl spend the opening pages arguing about the efficacy of Mjolnir and Sting (Bilbo’s Elven blade, not the bassist/singer).  The rest of the supporting characters are fun and distinct as well.

George R. R. Martin trying to convince Ernest Cline to kill off every main character

George R. R. Martin trying to convince Ernest Cline to kill off every main character

Cline does a good job interspersing some unexpected twists and some surprisingly deep/gut-wrenching plot lines into this lighthearted, nerderific story.  It definitely added some weight to the already terrific plot.  I was also surprised by just how intense and descriptive the battle scenes were. Every single battle, whether it was land based or a ship to ship dogfight, was an epic, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action sequence that will translate beautifully to the big screen.  Finally, while some of the plot lines were purposefully predictable, I was really surprised by the twist at the end (as well as the twist near the middle of the book).  Cline throws in some sharp turns into this story that really made my jaw drop.  A lot of times I am slightly disappointed by the way a book ends, this is not one of those books.  The ending fits perfectly with the theme and reference material.

All in all, I could not recommend this book enough.  If you are even slightly nostalgic about old video games, ’80’s music, or sci-fi/fantasy films then there are enough satisfying references to make it absolutely worth the cover price.  Cline’s writing is easy to read, packed full of loving nostalgia, and just so much fun.  The characters, setting, and plot are all top notch and you can tell that this book is borne out of a strong love for everything nerdy.

Armada is out now – head down to your local bookstore to enlist in the Earth Defense Alliance today!

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Cam Clark

Cam is a husband, father, and a fan of many things. In college, he wrote his senior thesis on Mythological, Philosophical, and Theological Themes in Star Wars, and now spends his days causally specializing in Star Wars, Tolkien, and cubical work. No relation to Bill Clark.

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