Ernest Cline is one of my favorite authors. Ever since his release of Ready Player One I have been impressed with his talent for getting a giant and exciting story in such a small package. His next book, Armada, is in a really unfortunate spot in the minds of readers. It is following in the shadow of Ready Player One, one of the best stand alone novels I have ever read, and has a plot reminiscent of Ender’s Game, one of the most iconic sci-fi novels of all time. When being compared to these two book, readers have had a lot of very high expectations of Armada that I think are a little unfair. Armada is its own novel, and for better or worse does a great job of differentiating itself.
The plot of Armada is aliens are invading, and the only people who can stop them are the best gamers in the world. The book is seen through the eyes of Zach lightman a teenager with a natural gift for gaming. While it may sound stupid, the book its actually quite cleverly written with an interesting plot and a rather serious take on how video games could be used to train pilots. Within this simple idea is a book that is a much a nerd love letter as is a sci-fi novel. The book is steeped in pop culture, gaming, and general comic culture to the point where I think it could be accused of pandering. However, as someone who loves to engage in many of those forms of media I actually found it endearing and fun as opposed to offputting. As usual, Ernest Cline is a master of the small details and the inside of the hardback dust cover has beautiful schematics for the main ship of the story. In addition, the back of the book contains a real music play list that is referenced throughout the book. It is the little things that make Ernest Cline one of the most fun writers around and I will forever be excited whenever I hear him announce a new book.
However, even with all of these things going for it, Armada came up short for me. Armada had a really good idea behind it. I was intrigued, impressed, and thought that the ending was superb. The problem is I feel like the only thing in the book is the idea behind the plot. Not a whole lot actually happens in the book. There is entirely too much build up and not enough payoff for the time investing. I think this really hit me when I finished the book, and the ending felt like a really good setup for a sequel with a lot more weight. The book takes place on Earth, so there really isn’t a lot of world building. I enjoyed the main character, and found his quirks refreshing in a world of noble orphans. However, Zach is not especially deep and it felt like too much of the backbone of his character was built on being a generic nerd. The book was still really fun, but I did not think it was fun enough to make up for the lack of substance in the early to mid parts of the story.
I find myself in a rare spot with this review of Armada. It certainly isn’t bad; it has charm, quirk, fun and spirit, but there simply isn’t enough there. I love how Cline continues to nail the little things in his presentation, and I would certainly buy a sequel if he ever wrote one. Nonetheless, Armada is a near miss for me and I will simply have to eagerly await Ernest Cline’s next book to find what I was looking for.
One thought on “Armada – A Great Idea With Not Enough Substance”
I was afraid for how people were going to receive Armada. I haven’t read Ready Player One, but I heard all the exclaim and praise for it, and as the expectations and anticipation rose for Armada, I was afraid it was going to hit by the dreaded hype train and fall flat. All the reviews I’ve read have made Armada sounds like it will be a fun novel to read, but compared to RPO it’s nowhere close, and it seems like some people are comparing it to RPO and – like you said – rating it unfairly.