Nerd alert, people. You are about to be clubbed over the head with ’80s pop-culture references.
Zackary has lived his life with no father. Xavier Lightman died, age 19, in a sewage plant explosion when the boy was just a baby. At age 17, Zack is obsessed with gaming, and his father’s short life, and is not really interested in his own future. His mom wants him to figure out college; he wants a life full-time at Starbase Ace, the local gaming hangout.
He spends his nights climbing the world rankings in his favourite game, Armada, shooting down alien invaders and kicking extraterrestrial ass, and thinking of nothing more than adding to his kill total. Until the day he thinks he sees an alien scout craft out his high school window. Until the day he finds out that his game is actually reality, and he has been training his whole life to defend Earth from a malevelant non-humanoid species. Until the day he goes into battle.
OK. Ender’s Game came first, and therein lies the conundrum. It was better. Not to say that Armada was bad, I liked it. But it was just not as well done.
The good. The tech idea was cool. Reverse engineering alien technology? Now we know where the iphone came from. Busted, Apple.
I liked Zack. He seems like a typical teen, obsessed with gaming, ready and willing to put off writing an essay or cleaning his room so he can squeeze in another battle. He watches his ranking rise, and takes pride in his Top 10 score. He is self-admittedly obsessed with his long-dead father, and watches his old VCR tapes of such movie classics as 2001, E.T., Star Wars and Trek, Top Gun and Iron Eagle, quoting dialogue and comparing storylines.
I didn’t really warm to the other characters too much. They didn’t seem overly authentic; his mom is still in love with a man she met as a teen, and was married to for maybe a year, she is also a gamer and lets him play as much as he wants, his friends don’t seem to have any depth, his classmates don’t have a lot of context, and his late dad harboured anti-government conspiracy theories involving alien invasions.
The pacing was also off. Timing didn’t seem to add up – the whole second half of the book takes place in less than a day, but too much happened, too slowly, for it to work for me.
All in all, the story felt forced. Cline wanted to have a deep moral lesson, while getting in as many gaming and movie references as possible, which slowed the action and detracted from the actual plot.
I really really wanted to love this book, but couldn’t get there. It was good, not great, and it could have been great. There is potential. The first half built up to something the second didn’t deliver on.
Totally appropriate for all teens, but you may have to be a geek of a certain age to fully appreciate all the pop-culture references.
Armada is published by Crown Publishing.