Book Review: Armada

Synopsis according to Goodreads:
"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?"

I haven't yet read Cline's first novel, the much-lauded Ready Player One, but I received Armada from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review, so I dove into it. And my end impression is that I really hope Ready Player One is much better than Armada was.

It's hard for me to tell if the book really fell as flat as it felt, or if there's some subversive element to its shallowness that I'm just not getting. Reading this book is like reading someone's blow-by-blow of a cheesy 1980's Flight of the Navigator knockoff. It's got all the bad tropes (aliens whose motives seem a bit too obvious, shadowy military-government organization, kid with daddy issues who has no emotional story arc, sacrificed characters are those we don't know and have no bond with the main character so it's no big loss to him or us, government coverup conspiracy, etc.). 

And Cline crams every reference he can to anything remotely SciFi Pop Culture from the past four decades, from direct quotes to name dropping to passing, meaningless jargon. It's too much- these references don't pertain to the plot, so they feel like a device meant for us geeks of the past to feel connected to Cline. And I dislike being pandered to like that.

My biggest issue with the book, which detracted from my enjoyment and highlighted all the errors (when I'm not lost in the story, I'm noticing all of the many plot inconsistencies, glaring omissions and repetitive moments) is that it's not an emotional or character-driven story. There's no arc: the MC undergoes no meaningful transformation of any kind. And so much of the plot is a description of aerial dogfights (thrilling to watch, mind-numbing to read) without any sense of the MC's potential fear, exhilaration, etc. It makes the story shallow, and I had to push myself to get through it

I can only recommend this to people who so love us vs. them flight sims and first person mech-style shooters AND everything SciFi Pop Culture (not because of the connections it has to human nature, but because it's counter-culture and therefore cool to be familiar with) that they don't really care about a story they'll feel connected to. As YA and SciFi go, you can find much better out there...and you should.

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for free, in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

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