Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ARMADA IS OUT NOW!!!!!!!! To celebrate, my subconscious made me buy a sweatshirt with a print resembling a bit vector representation of the ADI-88 Interceptor pictured inside the jacket flap of Armada yesterday. Basically, my sweatshirt had white triangle-like things with four thrusters in the wide side. I'll just show you a picture.

Right? I feel so celebratory right now with it. I mean, I only realized that HEY IT'S AN INTERCEPTOR when I got to my office and saw my copy of Armada. Anyway, enough of my babbling, today, I'm reviewing ARMADA!

Title: Armada
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Date of Publication: July 14, 2015

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.

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My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Thank you to Crown Publishing and Random House for the review copy! Receiving one did not affect my views of the novel.

I honestly don't know how to approach this review so let's just start with the reasons why you need to buy and read Armada.

1. THE PRETTY. This is how it looks naked.

Its jacket flap has a design inside.

COME ON GUYS. I just about drooled when I saw this. Lastly, MINT GREEN!!!

This is a book you want on your shelf.

2. GEEKSPLOSION. All the alien invasion games, films, and books!!

3. ADVENTUREHello, an alien invasion + video games secretly used to train humanity for it + NASA, the military, the gaming industry, and Hollywood conspiring to create content geared toward preparing humanity for said invasion. COME ON.

But let's be real. You just want to know why I'm only giving Armada 3 stars. So let's go.

I love Ready Player One so much. So so much. I'm a new fan since I only read it a couple of months ago but it's a book I will never forget. So obviously, I've had soaring expectations for Armada. I was super conscious about said expectations that I tried so hard going into this book without any. Every time my mind would compare it to RP1, I'd stop and regroup. Armada was a different book, I'd remind myself.

And it was indeed wholly different. From the start, I realized that Armada wouldn't be the fast-paced adventure-packed novel that was RP1. RP1 was about a race, which made for an edge-of-your-seat feeling while Armada was a war. And war takes time. So I had to set aside what I thought I'll be in for and just take Armada as it is. I was halfway through with the novel when the plot started to veer into the war aspect of things. The first half of the novel was spent on establishing the world set-up. Not that this is a bad thing but overall, I didn't feel THAT thrilled with Armada. Sure, the stakes were high but it didn't get me THAT excited and panicked and intensely worried about it.

I did appreciate how Ernest Cline took his time on introducing our hero, Zack Lightman, to us. For the first half of the novel, we got to know him as he narrates his story. How his normal day goes, where he works, how awesome he is at Armada, how his father died when he was a baby, how he's pretty much obsessed with his dad and knowing him, and all that. The set-up was vastly appreciated; however, I just didn't connect that much with Zack. I mean, he's a nice guy, but I don't exactly root for him with the passion I usually have for characters I love. Even with all the time spent on building up his character, he still read like a stock character to me. Stock characters are fine IF they can make you care and love them. But Zack didn't make me feel any of those. In short, Zack was cool and fine but even with all the focus on his characterization and background history, I wasn't left enamored by him.

I have this thing where I skim books I really really enjoy because I JUST NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. With Armada, I just leisurely read it. I didn't have the burning need to know what happens next and I didn't finish it in one sitting. And there wasn't even an urge to read it in one sitting. Which was telling of a lot of things. That it wasn't gripping.

Initially, I rated this one four stars but as I spent more time thinking about it, I realized that Armada is actually pretty forgettable. Maybe it's because Zack carries the whole novel and like I said, he's pretty bland and too straight-forwardly told. The plot was cool in theory but I think the execution was cheesy. Half-baked even. There were moments while reading that I just couldn't help smiling from all the sci-fi pop culture references but that was it. Nothing surprised me while reading. I guess you couldn't put twists on a war where it's obvious what's going to happen in the end.

I remember not liking the romance aspect of Ready Player One when it was introduced. I was like, DAMN IT NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS TO HAVE A ROMANCE. But Ernest Cline was able to handle it well and not make it the main focus of the story. Plus, the nuances of the romances in RP1 was A+. However, Ernest Cline's weakness in writing romance was in full display in Armada. It was so forced and there was absolutely no chemistry (they did cracked some jokes and did a bit of wisecracking banter) between Zack and Lex. It felt like, OH THIS BOOK NEEDS A ROMANCE ANGLE SO LET THERE BE IT. It was not organic to the story and the ploy to just have a romance was so obvious. Not only that but the other side couples in this the-world-is-ending-so-let's-just-get-it-on scenario were not necessary. I did appreciate the bit of diversity in this novel although the characters played such small roles.

Lastly, the ending. It was rushed and uninspired. While I was reading the ending, I just felt O-K-A-Y THAT'S HOW YOU'RE GONNA PLAY IT. Armada is a classic example of an epilogue gone wrong. You need not tie up all ends neatly in a bow, ready to be gifted. Sure, it ended openly, and it read like there's a possibility for a sequel. Which, for the record, I'm not interested in reading but I think I'll still read it (because I love Ernest Cline and have pledged allegiance to him).

So I sound like I completely hated it. 3 stars means I liked it and I did! My tweets while reading it were all praises and "DAMN, SON" and "Y'ALL SHOULD GET THIS, STAT" and at that time, that was what I was feeling. It was all in retrospect and toward the end did I feel and think of all of these. Which was a shame!

All in all, Armada left me unimpressed, which made me sad. I don't think it's because of my high expectations from having read Ready Player One but I am definitely disappointed because I know Ernest Cline is capable of so much more. Armada was a decently entertaining read, yes, but an unforgettable and cheesy one, and not the supposed "rollicking, surprising thriller" that it was pitched to be. If you're a fan of Ready Player One and you don't want to tarnish Ernest freakin' Cline in your mind, then I suggest you pass on this one. If you're just looking into getting into Ernest freakin' Cline, may I redirect you to Ready Player One instead.


  1. So I guess I'll read Ready Player One and pass on this one. OR read this, then RPO. Yup, that's my game plan. Oh, D. Sorry about this disaster(ish?), especially since you got so pumped up after receiving a totally rad hardbound.

    PS. You're a nerd for the sweater and I love it!

    1. I love my sweater! It's cozy too. And the hardbound was definitely rad. I'm so torn between giving it away (since I plan on only keeping books I rated 4 or higher) and keeping it because IT IS SUCH A GORGEOUS THING. Thanks for stopping by, Miel!


  2. Oh Wow!!! What a really looong review! I'll still consider it tho! :)

    1. Well, I tried writing short reviews before but I just can't. I can never be concise and I babble A LOT. I'm glad you still want to give Armada a shot! Thanks for dropping by, Jayvee!

  3. Above average rating, nothing but negative comments. Wat. I'll admit, it's not the best book in the world, but your review makes it sound like it's just awful. I would expect a review with a rating of 3/5 stars to have more praise. At least balance it. Your only praise of the book at all was "look how pretty the cover is, now let me tell you why everything is bad while constantly comparing it to a book I said I'm not going to compare it to". I do feel like 3/5 stars is a fair rating, but next time please list more positives explaining why it gets those 3 stars. "it looks pretty" isn't a reason to buy and read a book.

    1. Hi, Kael! Now that you've pointed it out, yeah, I realize you're right. Thanks for the constructive criticism and tips! I'd take note of that.


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