Recap: Zack Lightman is about to graduate from high school, but his ambitions of going to college are slim; he’s more focused on video games. His mother understands. She and Zack’s father were video game junkies themselves when they were his age. But Zack’s father, who had a seemingly insane theory about world and government officials secretly training children for war through video games, died when Zack was just a baby.
Zack’s dreams and worst nightmares come true all at once when the video game he’s been playing for years, Armada, becomes his reality. He has been recruited to join the real Earth Defense Alliance (EDA) and use what he’s learned through the video game to fight in actual combat against an alien invasion the EDA is likely to lose.
As one of the best Armada video game players in the world, Lightman has a respectable title and has been sent to the moon to fight alongside the game’s other top players. But what was already an overwhelming battle becomes even more overwhelming when a secret from Zack’s past comes to haunt his present.
Analysis: Like in his debut novel, best-selling author Ernest Cline (Ready Player One) incorporates 80’s pop culture references from sci-fi movies and games into a novel about video games. The difference here is that while Ready Player One is multi-layered and consists of both the teen boy and his avatar as two separate characters, Armada makes that teen boy and “avatar” one and the same. And while Armada doesn’t achieve the near-perfection of Cline’s first novel, it’s certainly still enjoyable.
The foreshadowing is overstated, so much of the story reads predictably. The pop culture references are a little overused, but one could argue it’s that aspect of Cline’s writing that made Ready Player One so enjoyable, so of course he used the technique again. And while the concept of being brought into a the life of a video game isn’t wholly original, the adventure along the way is fun, nonetheless. It’s the kind of story fanboys dream of — battling aliens! video games! hot girls who are suddenly attracted to nerdy guys!
In the simplest terms, one could argue that Armada is “a bit much.” But I would argue isn’t any sci-fi novel with adventure and heart exactly that?
MVP: Zack. He’s a bit of a lost soul, but that’s to be expected from a boy who grew up without a father. The intelligence and bravery he displays despite everything make him someone his father could be proud of.