Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #56. Yes I know, it has been another long wait, but this time it’s been worth it. Today we look at one of the most nerdy and reference-prone writers ever, and he’s back to deliver much the same good as last time.
One thing I have learned about Ernest Cline is that he’s mostly a writer of very escapist fiction. Which is a very light way of saying his stories are all stereotypical “geeky white male teenage hero overcomes impossible odds and saves the day leading to a happy ending, and gets the girl”, with unimaginably massive amounts of 80s pop culture, science fiction and amazing music geekiness thrown in for good measure. Which is unsurprisingly a good idea a grand total of once before you need to shake up the formula a little to have it continue being considered original. And I mean, it really does depend on the delivery the first time around.
I think what I’m attempting to say is the Ernest Cline has attempted to do the same thing twice. Ready Player One was a fantastic book. Beyond fantastic, actually, carrying with it the same control of wit, tension and characterisation any of the good Star Wars movies have. Good Star Trek episodes also have a similar feel. Cline encapsulated this “premise is unoriginal but the delivery is flawless”, which actually made for an amazing book which is comforting in its familiarity but engaging in its general amazingness. But then he tried to do the same thing once too many times (when actually once was quite enough thank you very much).
Armada is, broadly speaking, thematically the same as Ready Player One. However, structurally it’s a mess. The first act drags on, the second act doesn’t explain, answer or clarify nearly as many of the overarching questions as it should and the third act is practically a single statement containing the “twist” everyone can see coming and the characters going “whoooaaa” really loud and then going on with their lives. And while I can’t help but liking the characters (well, most of them), I don’t connect with the protagonist of Armada half as much as I do with Wade Watts (though I do want to steal his jacket).
Also, plot wise it’s not very cohesive. While I admire the general idea of Armada – a spaceship from a boy’s favourite videogame appears in front of him during class – the segue from that into painfully useless backstory for a full third of the book before *any* mention of the reason for the flying saucer’s appearance is death-by-a-thousand-papercuts-and-dunked-in-a-pool-of-vinegar painful. And this theme continues throughout the entire terribly-ordered novel.
Ultimately I must ask myself why I put myself through it. Oh it does have Cline’s fantastic signature reference-soaked style, which made the massive suppository of this book easier to… well you get the gist. But a book’s poor substance can’t be plastered over with a million nerdy references. Or a billion. Though not for want of trying, gods above. And Armada doesn’t have it where it counts, and therefore falls flat.
Armada was published in 2015 by Crown Publishing Group. It can be found on Amazon here.
Yours: J.M. Pear