Armada is the much anticipated follow-up to Ernest Cline’s first novel Ready Player One and he travels much of the same territory as his first novel. Armada is a novel that positively overflows with references to the movies and video games of the 1980’s, and Cline’s passion for the cultural items of the period can be found on every page. Cline weaves a story that feels familiar, largely because it is rooted in movies and games that you’ve seen before.
Zack Lightman is your normal 18 year old; about to graduate high school, not sure what he can do with his life when his only marketable skill is being very good at the aerial combat video game, Armada. Zack is experiencing just another day counting down to graduation, until he sees one of the alien ships from Armada flying around his neighborhood.
I wish there was more to recommend about Armada, but I found a lot lacking in the story. There are a couple of good action scenes, but I could have used one or two more. Cline is very good at making main characters that appeal to the kinds of people who read sci-fi novels. Zack is a normal guy, a video gamer who likes movies and obsesses over them just like normal fans. It’s very easy and a credit to Cline that many readers can insert themselves into the narrative.
However, the biggest fault with Armada is all the references Cline litters the book with. Cline seems incapable of going a few pages without using a line of dialogue from a movie or game, and generally when he does this, he will say where the line is from. You don’t need footnotes in an Ernest Cline book, because he will explicitly source everything for you inside the text. I don’t have a problem with referential humor in general, and I’m a sucker for nostalgia as much as the next kid that grew up in the 80’s, but Cline seems to have nothing to say other than, “Weren’t the 80’s really cool?” Yes, I know that they were, now I need you to say something interesting or illuminating about it. It’s a shame too, because Cline seems to enjoy the same movies and bands that I grew up with, but I need more than just reminder that certain movies existed. At this point, the referential nature of Cline’s work have become too much of a crutch, and I’d like to see him get away from it.
The other problem with Armada is that it just doesn’t have that sense of world building that made Ready Player One interesting. Armada is set in the world just outside your window, so the story rises and falls based on the characters and plot, and to be honest, the characters and plots are pretty standard.
The audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton, who does a serviceable job. He does a good job with the more emotional moments, but he struggles when having to do impersonations, which makes some moments more humorous then they were probably intended. At a little over 11 hours, you’ll get a decent amount of listening enjoyment out of the audiobook.
Armada is a decent enough sci-fi adventure story, although it lacks any real surprises. If you enjoyed Ready Player One, you’ll find Armada to be a similar experience, for good or ill. The story has some enjoyable and affecting moments, but it is let down by a preponderance of overly explained and sometimes repetitive references. It’s a decent enough book, but I wish Cline had stepped out a bit from his previous novel. Hopefully he can do that with his next book.