PrintE-mail Written by Ed Fortune

Ernest Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player One, shot the author to stardom. Not only did the book do very well indeed, it’s now being turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, helmed by Steven Spielberg. Part of the book’s appeal is that it’s peppered with pop-culture references and has a fast-paced, easy-to-get-into style. His second book, Armada, follows this seemingly winning formula very closely.

The plot follows the misadventures of Zack Lightman, a troubled teenager who is very good at video games. His father, also a gaming geek, died in a sewage explosion when he was very young, and Zack has inherited his dad’s full collection of '80s and '90s VHS tapes. He also owns his father’s pile of crazy-seeming notes about a Government conspiracy involving games. When Zack starts seeing video game-style spaceships in the sky, he begins to worry for his own sanity.

Armada is not the tense thriller you may suspect it is from the first 40 pages or so. It quickly moves into action movie territory, and this is slightly disappointing. It reads very much like an incredibly detailed movie pitch in places. The story structure follows the style of your typical popcorn-munching blockbuster, and it’s punctuated with the sort of big action sequences that would translate well into a big budget CGI-fest. The novel’s various heroes are also described in a way that would make them very easy to cast. It’s a good job that they’re easy to visualise as apart from that they’re pretty two-dimensional. For example, if Armada ever gets turned into a movie, it will fail the Bechdel test.

Cline has also filled Armada with video game and movie references. Every major character is some sort of geek, and most of them are quite happy to talk in a language composed of pop culture slang and movie quotes. This lends an air of fun to the story, but it gets quite tired quite quickly. Cline also feels the need to constantly point out various plot holes in the story. This is both foreshadowing and an attempt at maintaining the readers suspension of disbelief. This builds up reader expectations to an unmanageable level at times.

Armada is a solid sci-fi romp, written in a very relaxed style and is filled with lots of video game-style violence and crammed with pop-culture ideas and notes. If you’re looking for the  novel equivalent of bubblegum, then you’ll lap this up. Otherwise, just wait for the inevitable movie to come out.


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