Review: Armada

Review: ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishing on July 14th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 349
Format: audio
Source: Purchased

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.

After I adored Ready Player One I went into Armada with pretty high expectations, which unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to.  As with Ready Player One, I decided to listen to the audiobook, and as usual, Wil Wheaton’s narration was fantastic, but for some reason, I still found I just never got truly hooked on Armada like I did Ready Player One.

There’s plenty to like: the plot is fun, the characters are likable, it’s got the same love for geeks vibe as Ready Player One, but Armada just didn’t wow me like I expected it to.  I think actually what killed Armada for me, was one of the things I loved most about Ready Player One – the constant pop-culture references.  They were a fun addition that made me feel awesome whenever I got them in Ready Player One, but even without them, the story was addictive enough, and the characters relatable enough, that I’d have been hooked.  In Armada, I felt like a lot of the humour, and even plot points and emotional depth, were supposed to come through these references, and that meant wherever you didn’t get one, the story just felt a bit flat.

I’d spent my entire life overdosing on uncut escapism, willingly allowing fantasy to become my reality.

I loved the idea – Ender’s Game is a huge favourite of mine and it’s the same principle – and I loved the mystery of the video game that showed up in arcades, drove a few kids insane and then mysteriously vanished again. I loved Zack’s mother and their relationship, and I liked the constant banter between characters.  There’s a plot point which I can’t talk about without spoilers but which I thought was clever, and fun, and that I loved.

Ultimately, maybe I’m just the wrong kind of geek for this one to ever truly click for me, because I felt like there were a lot of game references that went over my head (I really want to love gaming but my skills are still hovering around about Crash Bandicoot and Pokemon so I tend to give up very early on…).  I wonder if I’d picked this up having not read Ready Player One I would have enjoyed it more, but to be honest I’m not sure that’s the case – I think if I hadn’t already trusted Cline because of Ready Player One, I’d have got fed up of the pop-culture references and eventually DNF’d the book.  There were moments very early on in the story when I couldn’t seem to get hooked and the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I’d LOVED Ready Player One and trusting that Cline would do something awesome with this book too.  Overall, Armada was a fun read and I enjoyed it – but I didn’t love it.  I’ll definitely be giving it a re-read later on though, because I think expectations really let this one down, and I think I may well like it a lot more going in with a better idea of what to expect.

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Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)

Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishers on 05-04-2012
Genres: Fiction, General, Hard Science Fiction, Science Fiction
Length: 15 hours, 40 minutes
Source: Purchased

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune -- and remarkable power -- to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved -- that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt -- among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life -- and love -- in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★★

Strange but true: for some reason I was convinced Ready Player One was an old book, a sci-fi classic like Ender’s Game or Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Reality: Ready Player One was published in 2011.  Don’t ask me why I was convinced it was published in the 80s (especially since that doesn’t even really make sense given the 80s references in the book).

Also true: I was convinced I would dislike Ready Player One.  The concept interested me, but as a 90s child with no 80s knowledge, I expected it to be like listening to a relative go on about people they loved as a kid but that you’ve never heard of.

So by now, you’re almost certainly wondering why I bothered picking up Ready Player One, but I was looking for audiobooks for my commute and I heard so many great things about Wil Wheaton’s narration I decided it was worth a go!

The story

19 year old Wade Watts is our primary character.  Like pretty much everyone else, Wade spends almost all his time in the OASIS (The Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). The OASIS is a virtual world, through which people go to school, hang out with friends, meet new people and even work.   When James Halliday, the creator of The OASIS dies, he reveals that he has hidden an easter egg within The OASIS.  The person who finds this easter egg will inherit a ridiculous amount of money and Halliday’s share in the company that created The OASIS.

Like everyone else, Wade dreams of finding the Egg, but so far, the contest has been going on for years, and no one has even managed to find the first of the three keys, yet alone the Egg itself.  But Wade’s life outside The OASIS is miserable – he lives in a trailer park with family he doesn’t like, stacked high up in a pile of trailers constantly at risk of toppling, in a neighbourhood where mugging is a daily occurence.  So he goes to school in The OASIS, and he spends the rest of his time learning about the 80s, because everyone knows how obsessed Halliday was with the 80s, and the journal that Halliday has left makes no sense without an intense knowledge of 80s pop culture.  So he reads, and he watches, and he listens to music, and he racks his brain for what the first clue means and where the first key could be hidden.

When the first key is finally found though, things get very intense, very fast. From the clans that team up to try and find the keys to the professionals who are paid to try and find the keys so that the rival company can take over The OASIS, Wade’s life – and many others – will be permanently changed by the experience of hunting for the egg.


final thoughtsAll in all, despite my skepticism before starting, I really enjoyed Ready Player One.  I really loved the plot, the twists and turns and the constant guessing.  I definitely didn’t get all the references, but because they tie in so clearly to the plot, I didn’t really mind, and I loved that jolt when something unexpected pops up that you are familiar with.  My biggest limitation with Ready Player One was the characters – I liked them, but I didn’t adore them, which, as someone who is hugely character driven, I found a little disappointing.

Wil Wheaton’s narration is truly fantastic, and I can honestly say this was probably the perfect introduction to audiobooks for me.  I’ve listened to a few more audiobooks but none of them have been addictive in the way Ready Player One was!

Buy it? This is one that’s definitely worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: This book is like all those quotes that say ‘being a geek is cool’, rolled up into one and then filled with geeky references.  It’s fun, it’s gripping and it’ll make you feel like a rockstar whenever you get a reference.

Other Reviews of Ready Player One: Snuggly Oranges | Let’s Get Galactic | Read Breathe Relax

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