When I read Ready Player One for the first time a few years ago (and again last year in preparation for the movie), it became an instant favorite. I will recommend RPO to anyone and everyone because it’s just that good. You don’t have to be an 80’s baby or a gamer to love Ready Player One. It’s a book that is easily universally loved.
So naturally, when I discovered that Ernest Cline had written another book, Armada, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Reports that it was not as good as its predecessor left me with some trepidation. But after reading Andy Weir’s second book, Artemis, last year, I began to rethink my trepidation. See, I have a theory about both Artemis and Armada. Their authors’ first books (The Martian and Ready Player One, respectively) were runaway best sellers. They were, and continue to be, extremely popular. And for good reason: they are incredibly well done. Most debut novels do not perform this well, since most debut authors are still “getting their feet wet.” But somehow, two science and technology-minded guys managed to do what most authors will never get to do: write a best-selling novel on their first try.
Because of this, readers experienced a phenomenon that I have found to be very common with second books of best-selling authors. I call it: But It’s Not the Same. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we as readers tend to approach a best-selling author’s second novel as if it’s going to be a repeat performance of his or her first. This isn’t fair to the author as a writer or you as a reader. Every book written by an author should be taken as its own, autonomous work of art. Making comparisons to or having expectations influenced by previous works should be reserved for book series and nonfiction (since you’re typically looking for some semblance of consistency in those categories).
So I did my best, when reading Armada, to take it as its own work, separate from Ready Player One. While there are many similarities between the two and Cline definitely has a “type” when it comes to writing, Armada is a completely separate book with a separate story. All of that to say, I liked Armada. It won’t end up in my top books of 2019, but it’s definitely not going to the bottom of the list either. It’s somewhere in the upper middle. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t mind-blowing.
Since I’ve waxed so eloquent on one of my many theories in the psychology of reading and readers, I will keep the rest of this review short. Zack Lightman is a high school senior who has spent his life dreaming and learning about a father he never knew. Ever since his father died in a work-related accident when Zack was an infant, he has not ceased to get to know his father through the books, music, video game, journals, and other paraphernalia that Xavier Lightman left behind. He plays his favorite video game, Armada, nearly every night with his father’s gaming playlist blasting in his ears.
Zack is the sixth best Armada player in the world. He has sacrificed a lot to achieve this ranking: a social life, his grades, even his now ex-girlfriend. But all of those hours of playing are about to pay off. Armada isn’t just a game and the aliens he and thousands of people around the world fight aren’t just made-up characters. Armada, the EDA (Earth Defense Alliance), and the extraterrestrials they’re fighting are all real. And Zack has unknowingly been in training to fight these aliens ever since the first time he turned on the game.
When an EDA ship lands at his school and his boss at Starbase Ace, a video game store, tells him he’s being recruited to the EDA, Zack’s life turns upside down. He learns government secrets, becomes a lieutenant in the EDA, and joins with the other top ten players on the base on the far side of the moon as the first line of defense against these alien creature. But not everything is as it seems. The aliens are a bit too predictable and everything seems a little bit too convenient. What is really going on behind this impending attack? Who is the world really in danger from?
Like I said above, I enjoyed Armada. It wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t the worst book I’ve read. It had some Ender’s Game vibes and I’m always down for that. I liked the experience I had reading it and immediately passed it off to my husband because it’s right up his alley. If you’re a fan of Ready Player One, you should give Armada an unbiased chance. I think it’s worth it.
Armada by Ernest Cline gets 4/5 stars.