Thursday, August 27, 2015

Speedy Review: Armada

So lately, I’ve been hung up on writing these long, long, long essays that detail everything ever about my experience with something.

So now we’ll try something new – a short review, just to see if I can pull it off.

Armada is the latest novel from Ernest Cline, who made a big splash a couple of years ago with the novel Ready Player One.  This was after his first movie took years and lots of re-editing to come out.

At any rate, Ready Player One came out with lots of geek cred authors all over the back cover, praising it like nothing else.

As for me, I thought it was an impressive pulling together of a bunch of generation X nerd culture.  Is was the kind of book I had trouble recommending to friends, because the plot was paper-thin, but the game of spot the reference was kind of fun.

And now, only a couple of years later, I can barely recall the plot. 

So perhaps I wasn’t the best bet for being a fan of Armada.

The super-short plot synopsis.  We’ve got a main character, who is a boy.  He likes to play a video game called Armada.  His dad was killed years ago in an industrial accident, but he left behind a lot of notebooks detailing a possible conspiracy having to do with video games.

Finally, after 50-some pages, we learn that Armada was actually a simulator created to teach the world how to fight an alien invasion.

And of course, our protagonist is high up in the game rankings, so he’s being recruited.

Which is to say, if you’ve seen the movie The Last Starfighter, you’ve kind of read this already.

Is it exactly the same?  No.  But what we have here is, once again, Cline mining his lost youth for references.  Our hero idolizes his dead dad, who is, of course, just about Cline’s age.  So he loves that era of nerdery and talks about music and video games that your average 17-year-old probably isn’t terribly familiar with.

Much like in Ready Player One, I never really invested in any of the characters, even though Cline clearly went out of his way to attempt some emotional scenes for them.

And as the book progresses, it morphs from a Last Starfighter story until it essentially becomes (spoiler alert, I suppose) Ender’s Game, in far, far, far too many ways.

The book itself also seems… rushed, I guess.  After a too-long 50 page setup, the book never really stops moving but not in a relentless, fun way.  Instead it feels like Cline knew he had a deadline coming up, waited until the last possible second, and then bashed out a first draft.

Or perhaps, as sometimes happens, he sold the book on a pitch or an outline, and didn’t realize until it was too late that he was essentially photocopying a couple of older books/movies.

No matter.

In its favor, the book glides by quickly, so… there’s that.

Cline apparently already has another novel in the pipeline.  I’ll be curious to see what it’s about, but I really, really hope he goes in a bit of a different direction this time.

I wish him luck.


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