Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada by Ernest Cline
Release Date - July 14, 2015
Publisher Website - Random House
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 368 pages
My Rating - 3/5
**received for an honest review from publisher/Wunderkind PR**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
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.
There are some novels that are meant for a specific market. They are tailor made to appeal to a specific type of individual. Armada is one such book. Those who love gaming, alien movies, and anything space related will devour this book with unabashed glee. Those who perhaps are not the target market may still find plenty to enjoy within these action packed pages.

The pop culture references are plentiful and bounce around the novel faster than space lasers. If you're not well versed some of the reference may go over your head, but plenty of them are well known enough to be easily recognizable. The concern that the sheer number of references, and the reliance on them for comparison, will alienate readers is a valid one. I did sometimes feel like I had to Google to familiarize myself with some of the references. Those who are in the know however will delight in Cline's use of savvy references.

The latter half of this novel comes to life in a way that the first half never did for me. There is some fantastic action, and the plot speeds along allowing you to becomes engrossed in the story. The beginning reads a little like an information dump used to set up the novel, and that did create a disjointed pacing for me. The time between Zack disbelieving what he is seeing, and finding out that aliens are real to when he is fighting to save the world also felt off. The shifts happened too rapidly, yet the sections in between these defining events felt long. It felt like there was no build up to ease you from one event to the other.

The secondary characters were less developed in favour of the plot. I didn't feel like any of them became fully developed, interesting characters. None of them would make me beg for a companion novel from their perspective. Zack's best friends, in particular, felt pretty one dimensional. The upside to the characterization is that Zack's voice is very much on point. It reads exactly like you would expect someone like Zack to speak. Ernest Cline obviously cares about not just the sci-fi genre but the tropes within them. This love comes through in how Zack is written. Zack never feels like a caricature even if it could have easily veered that way.

The novel embraces it's own clichés, and even plays with some of the obvious questions the readers would have. The why of the alien invasion, and how certain actions they display seem to defy practical logic. Zack questions the same things creating a connection with the reader. He feels like a reader substitute except more fully developed than your average 'reader stand in' character. The plot smartly answers these questions in a plausible, interesting way, and most importantly it's in a way that feels satisfying. The ending leaves just enough open ended to allow for a sequel while wrapping up all the major plot points.

While I didn't fall as in love with this novel as I expected to,  I still appreciated it for what it is. Ernest Cline captures the love of the classic alien movies, the gamer culture. It's a love letter to not just the genres included, but the people who love them and that is really who this novel is for. 

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