I loved Ready Player One and I wanted to love Ernest Cline’s new book Armada just as much. Unfortunately, I did not. (I apologize to Mr. Cline for comparing his second book to his first, but it’s just the easiest way to review the book.)
Ready Player One was original and inventive. Armada is neither, and it is very predictable. It’s so predictable that I thought it would surely end in another way, as the author points us so strongly in the direction of the predicted ending. Plot points along the way were also predictable, and Armada falls back on tired clichés (like the school bully accompanied by his two “big and dumb” thugs).
I totally bought into the world of Ready Player One. I can fully imagine our world disintegrating into the chaos of Ready Player One by 2044. I did not buy into the world of Armada, which is set in 2018. The whole scenario – sentient beings on a moon within our own solar system, a secret plan to prepare all of Earth’s citizens for war through popular culture and video games – did not seem plausible. I felt like I was reading a script for a forgettable alien invasion movie. I did not get caught up in Zack’s world.
Zack was also not nearly as likeable as Wade from Ready Player One, and Zack’s band of compatriots felt clichéd (African-American, check; gay, check; middle-aged, check; Asian, check).
I’m not a gamer, but that bothered me not a bit in Ready Player One. The gaming in Armada is much more focused on one type – “space invader” shooting games. I was bored by the long descriptions of game playing and combat.
The popular culture references in Armada feel forced. I didn’t get a lot of the references in Ready Player One, but they came so fast and furious, and were built so seamlessly into the dialog and plot, that I didn’t care. Multiple times while reading Armada I found myself feeling annoyed that I didn’t get a reference.
Although I couldn’t help but read Armada in the shadow of Ready Player One, if I’d never read Ready Player One I would not have enjoyed Armada any more. In fact, I probably gave Armada an extra half star because I love Cline and his first novel so much.
Armada is not without merit. I was amused off and on. I enjoyed Zack’s online call sign of IronBeagle, a combination of the hero from the movie Iron Eagle and Snoopy fighting the Red Baron. Cline has a nice way of putting words together (“I reminded myself that I was a man of science, even if I did usually get a C in it.”) Armada was a quick read, and there are worse ways to pass some time. I will definitely read his next book.