Armada by Ernest Cline

ArmadaArmada

by Ernest Cline

Hardcover, 349 pg.
Crown Publishing, 2015
Read: July 10 – 11, 2015This was fun, loads of fun. Not as good as Ready Player One — not sure it could’ve been, so let’s just take that off the table. But, it taps into the same vein of pop culture, gaming, and a desire for something that’s missing — family, father, social acceptance, etc. You take these elements, add a sense of humor and an adventure-driven plot and you get a winning read.

Now, Zack Lightman isn’t Wade Watts — he has friends, he has a great Mom (good grandparents, too, it seems), and some sort of a future. Okay, his life is a lot better than Wade’s. But, it’s not perfect. Especially when he — and he alone –sees a space ship from a video game outside the window of his High School. He figures he’s losing his marbles. And, you have to admit, the evidence is pretty convincing.

Until the next day, when another spaceship from the game lands at school — and others see it. It’s from the Earth Defense Alliance, and they’ve come for Zack. Not just Zack — all over the globe, they’re recruiting the best players of a couple of games (one flight combat-based, one ground-war based) to join a global force to defend the planet from an immanent alien invasion.

On the one hand, this is a dream come true for a die-hard gamer, SF nut, and daydreamer — a chance for glory, a chance to save the world, a chance to…meet a hot programmer-slash-gamer. On the other hand, did I mention the immanent alien invasion and near-certain death of all humanity (including Zack)?

Cline doesn’t give us anything new here – he takes every movie/novel/game about battles in space, alien invasions, First Contact, and so on that he’s seen/read/played (and actually tells you in the narrative which are the major influences); mixes them up and gives us one, big, gooey SF mishmash. I could read that all day long. Actually, I did. And I’d gladly do it again.

Ready Player One had a very limited cast — but Cline doesn’t repeat that. Zack has a couple of friends in high school, an ex-girlfriend, an old enemy, a mom, a boss. And then there’s everyone in the EDA that he meets — some higher ranking officers, his teammates and a new love interest. There are common bonds between all of them, but they’re not all just variations on Zack (like RPO‘s Wade and co.). I liked every character — even the less noble ones. These folks had heart, they had style — each one of them made me smile in a different way.

It’s easy to write-off Cline’s stuff as a litany of pop culture references with a thin veneer of plot. But that’s a mistake. His strength is the soul he puts into these characters. It’s in the interpersonal relationships, emotions, stakes — that’s where he shines. Even when you know something’s going to happen, even when you can see it coming 10 miles away, Cline still nails it. The ability to get to the emotional core — what some might call the emotional truth — of a scene, of a connection between characters? That covers up for a lot of shortcomings.

The worst thing about this book? I’ve read every Cline novel in existence. So the wait begins for whatever’s next.

I won my copy of this from the nice folks over at Read It Forward, if you’re not checking into that site on a regular basis, you’re missing something.

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5 Stars

Ready Player One (Audiobook) by Ernest Cline, Wil Wheaton

Ready Player OneReady Player One

by Ernest Cline, Wil Wheaton

Unabridged Audiobook, 15 hrs and 46 mins
Random House Audio, 2011
Read: March 19 – 27, 2014

As much as I enjoy a good audiobook, I rarely have time for them, and I usually only listen to books that I’ve previously read. When my family needed something to listen to on a road trip last month, this was an automatic top contender — the printed version of this was probably my favorite book of 2011, and I was due for another read.

I’m so glad we picked this one, it was long enough (an important consideration for a road trip) and it was marvelously done. Wil Wheaton was an inspired choice to read this — not only is he an experienced, and accomplished audiobook performer (is that the right word?); but being who he is — an Internet/Nerd icon and a 1980’s child star — he adds a layer of authenticity and authority to the book.

I’m not going to talk about the book, I can’t. I’ve tried it before, and failed. But it’s just about perfect — funny, adventurous, immersed in pop culture (particularly from the 80’s, my formative years), smart, with heart — a lot of it.

So when you add one of the best performances of Wheaton’s career to that, you’ve got something worth spending 15 hours with. If only for his Sean Connery impression.* Wheaton captures the flavor, the pathos, the charm of the book and the characters that inhabit it. Go grab the book and give it a read. The audiobook’s almost as good. If you’ve read it, the audiobook’s a good way to revisit it.

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* There are several other “if only”s I could’ve used there, that’s just the first that came to mind. As Alan Sepinwall would put it, Deyanu!

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5 Stars