Earlier in the summer, I wrote about how I had found myself in a reading slump. To help myself break out, I picked three books to read in the month of July. Though the books definitely did bleed a bit into August, I read all three books and finally, FINALLY broke out of my reading slump. Victory!
The first book I’m going to talk about from the three I read is Ernest Cline’s highly anticipated second novel after Ready Player One, Armada. I read Ready Player One last summer for my Geeky Summer Reads, and I completely loved it. I knew Armada wasn’t going to be a sequel, but after being so utterly blown away by the story Cline told in RP1, I was positively itching to get my hands on his next book.
So did it live up to the hype?
Well, yes and no. Let me explain–no spoilers ahead.
Let’s start with the negative: this book reminded me an awful lot of the movie The Last Starfighter—a totally rad movie from the 80s which you need to watch now if you’ve not seen it yet. Seriously. Go watch. I’ll be here.
Now, before you say, “But, Kendall, apart from the video game aspect, they have two totally different concepts. Plus, Cline mentions the film in his book–he acknowledges the similarities!” I know. The stories are different at their cores, and Armada was in no way a rip-off of Starfighter. Still, the beginning of the movie and ultimate set-up of life behind the video game felt a lot like Starfighter. Once the story really got going, Cline made it clear how his book deviated from the 80s film, but after a book one that felt so very unique and one-of-a-kind, it bummed me out that the book felt “borrowed” in parts. It felt that RP1’s plot was just a lot thicker and had a bit more meat on its bones.
I also didn’t get to know the characters as well as I would have liked. In RP1 we really get to know not only Wade Watts, but Aech, Art3mis, Diato, Shoto, and even Sorrento. Because the major events in Armada happen over the course of a day, we just don’t get to know all of the tertiary characters as well–and from our brief intros to them, they seemed pretty rad.
The plot itself was fine, but it also lacked a bit of the twists, turns, and obstacles that you’d expect in a science fiction adventure. Sure, there are bumps along the road, but it seemed that every time a truly large conflict could arise, Cline took a quick turn and made all of his characters “be cool” and continue to work together well. The story is fine. The action is fine. It’s just a tad shallow where he really could have gone deeper. I mean, Wade Watts goes to debtor’s prison, he falls in love with a girl and loses her, he nearly dies IRL and in-game, he spends a lot of the book very poor, he loses his family…meanwhile, Zack has father issues that are talked about, but not really explored, when those father issues come to a head, it ends up not being a big deal. Zack grows up in a single-parent home, but they live comfortably. He meets a girl, and they pretty much stick together the entire time. When he is presented with situations that could get him in real trouble, he gets off. And did I mention that the major events of the book take place over the course of one day?! The book’s brief timeline showed, especially when the “big twist” ending was anything but. The book was just…oddly simple after a book like RP1.
BUT I did enjoy the read.
Just like in RP1, Cline does a great job drawing you into a world of sci-fi awesomeness, peppered in with plenty of references to the time period he loves so very much-the eighties. Much like Wade, Armada‘s lead character, Zack, is a nerd who saves the world. Though there are similarities to Last Starfighter, the story ultimately goes in a different direction. I wish the story had dove deeper into the characters, I wish the journey was a more hard-fought one, and I wish there were more twists and turns along the way, but the read was a fun one. I was able to get through it pretty quickly, and even though I didn’t close the book wanting to immediately start it again like I did with RP1, I closed the book smiling. It was fun, it was exciting, and it was that sci-fi/geeky reference type of book that we’ve come to expect from Ernest Cline. Also, I feel pretty confident he set the book up for a sequel, which gave me hope that we could get a more in-depth look at the characters and the rest of the story around Zack Lightman. I felt like he purposefully left us with some questions and loose ends that he could easily start writing towards in a sequel.
Following up a book like Ready Player One had to have been a momentous feat. While I don’t think Armada was as good as RP1, the book is a nice follow-up to his first work. After all, when I finished the book, I was left wanting more–more story, more character development, more everything–so maybe that’s how he wants his readers to feel. Maybe he wanted us to close the book, wanting to learn more about Zack and his friends at the EDA.
So while this wasn’t my favorite book of the year like RP1 was, and while I won’t push the book on all of my friends like I did with RP1, I did enjoy Armada. It’s not worth the hype RP1 received, but if you like Ernie Cline and you like sci-fi, nerdy stuff, and eighties references, you’ll dig the book. Ultimately, it’s a fun ride.
Did you read Armada? What did you think of it? How did you think it compared to Ready Player One? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!