Ernest Cline

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?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is 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 the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

Armada book cover

“There were marks where she’d dug her nails into my skin, but I hadn’t even noticed. I’d been too busy having my whole perception of reality shattered into a million pieces.”

Ready Player One was, without doubt, one of the novels of the year. I think Cline’s fast becoming one of the authors of the decade, a full-time geek, as the bio at the book says, is quite, quite accurate. With a Douglas Adams reference in the opening paragraphs and a voice reminiscent of his debut novel, this thing kicked off superbly and didn’t let up for a moment.

“Besides, now I was thinking there just might be a God after all—that would explain who was currently fucking with my whole notion of reality.”

The depth of the characters might push some away, but if you accept the escapist nature of the work and the sheer genius of the way Cline is perfectly content to shanghai tropes both historical and modern to fit into his protagonists worldview you can fall, head first, into this pure work of geek without too much trouble.

“We’re not going to play for them, Graham, I told you,” he muttered. “Aliens are invading in a few hours, remember?”

Some of the extras really stood out; Milo’s mom was great, and Lex took the cake in dialogue, a sort of merging of two of his previous characters to form one badass chick. The whole thing was a rollicking, guilty pleasure, and I think as it’s less focused on minutia than Clines debut it might attract a wider audience.

So, despite a predictable pattern, sometimes too familiar tropes and a story that hasn’t really given us much to innovate over (apart, of course, from the central tenet of the film and game industries direction which is uber cool) this nonetheless manages to be intensely pleasurable and a novel I will, I am sure, read time and time again. A feather in the cap to be sure, and something very worthy to follow the gigantic success of Cline’s debut work.

Published by Sean Randall

I am an avid reader, technologist and disability advocate living in the middle of England with my wife, daughter and pets.

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