armada, audible, Book, book review of armada, ernest cline, ready player one, review, wil wheaton
Last MM: The Z Chronicles
I am a huge fan of Ready Player One. It is easily one of my favorite books of all time. So you can imagine how eagerly I awaited the release of Armada. By now, you’ve probably heard some mixed reviews about this book. Well, you can add this one to that list, because I know I feel a bit mixed myself.
When I was unable to get my hands on an ARC copy or a signed copy, I waited until the release date, and bought the audio book. I read most things via audible. Wil Wheaton delivered another wonderful performance. And given that the main character is a videogame/vintage obsessed teenage boy, at times he felt like the same character as Ready Player One. Although, that’s about where the similarities end.
I think in many ways it’s unfair to compare this book to Ready Player One. And maybe that’s the downside to having your first novel be a breakout success. I really feel like Ready Player One was something special. It was innovative, immersive, and really, it’s own thing. It wasn’t likely that an author could create something as original on his second time out. Therefore, I’m going to do my best to consider only Armada in my review of this book.
Overall, I liked this book. It has a relaxed narrative style that I respond to. That said, this book had a lot of problems and few redeeming qualities.
I love the nostalgia. However, I think that Ernest Cline may have gotten a bit carried away with it. Every other line was a reference to something. Sometimes the same something he’d already used. I sort of feel like maybe he’d done so much research for his other book that he had a list of references that he didn’t get to use, so he decided to jam them in here.
It was a tale as old as time. Or, as old as video games, anyway. Yes, everything has already been done before. But the point for an author is to bring their own spin to it. I feel like Armada failed a bit in this. And giving a nod, or a straight up shout out, telling the reader that you are, in fact, using the same plot as a number of other movies doesn’t excuse it.
The secondary characters were all one-dimensional. In fact, they didn’t even have much screen time. They were plot devices that were there when it suited the story and gone just as quick. The bully, his boss turned handler who disappeared from the story for no real reason, his friends, his love interest, even his mom, and in actual form (rather than romanticized speculative form) his dad. All of these characters could have been developed better. Instead, they were cardboard cutouts. Even the main character wasn’t especially deep. He had daddy-issues, on-and-off temper problems, and he liked video games. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you much about him.
I was not surprised by a single thing in this book. There was nothing that I didn’t see coming.
The biggest problem that I had with it, though, would have to be the repetitiveness. I don’t know if it just desperately needed another content edit, or if the story wasn’t long enough so he did the best he can, but it repeated itself. I don’t know how many times it told the same details about his dad. Just again and again and again. Also, almost from the beginning of the book, he told you the ending. Then he continued to beat you over the head with the conclusion of the book, never letting you forget that here’s the real deal. There was never any question. There was never any mystery or even real stakes. Yes, the world might end. But, in truth, he didn’t really set up the aliens as bad guys. He didn’t just make it obvious that they didn’t want to hurt us, he said it two dozen times. It made reading this book feel a touch like a beta read.
Sadly, it turns out that judging this book solely on its own merit doesn’t make this review less harsh. It may have even made it worse.
As I mentioned, somehow, I liked this book. I imagine that it has to be my own nostalgia, either for the 80’s, video games, or Ready Player One combined with Wil Wheaton’s great delivery. Again, I like the actual writing. The words are in a pleasing order and delivered in a pleasing way. There is style, there is voice. There just wasn’t much character or story.
I think you’ve nailed all the problems i had with the book, especially the repetition, it all got a bit much. Two thirds of the way through I considered putting the book down, mainly because I felt like I’d already read everything he had to say. Great critique.
Matthew Lieberman said:
I think you nailed this review pretty perfectly. I was disappointed that it announced its connections to all the genre tropes, but then didn’t surprise us by taking them in a different direction. At the same time, despite virtually no surprises I still enjoyed the act of reading this book. It was a guilty pleasure. I enjoy all the stories it was drawing from and so I like reading more of that kind of story. But I was kind of disappointed in myself for enjoying it since it didn’t really seem to work hard enough to add to the literature. The next time someone wants to reference all the classics in this genre (Last Starfighter, Ender’s, etc) I don’t think Armada will be part of that list.
BTW I’m reading your story in the AI Chronicles and really loving it. Thanks for writing it! I’ll be ordering your book soon. I’m a fellow Angelino (I teach at UCLA).