Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Armada


Si vis pacem, para bellum
“If you want peace, prepare for war.”

There is a secret world wide military organization covertly preparing Earth’s population for an alien invasion. It has been doing this for decades through books, comics, television, movies, and video games. No, really. And a teenager is about to become the tip of humanities desperate spear of survival. With a little help from his friends.

Zachary Ulysses Lightman thinks he is going crazy when he sees an alien fighter from is favorite game, Armada,  hovering outside his high school. Specifically a Glaive drone fighter of the Sobrukai, residents of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Why might he be going crazy? Zach’s father went mad writing a rambling journal about a government conspiracy before being killed in an industrial accident. So Zack can’t be too sure of his sanity either. Fortunately for Zach, he isn't insane. Well, more like  unfortunately as it were for Zach and all of humanity actually because there is in fact a massive alien fleet that is preparing to perform genocide on Earths dominate species.

Ernest Cline’s second novel has a huge gaming element. Like his first novel, Ready Player One, a young hero’s gaming obsession becomes his salvation. Armada is a cross between The Last Starfighter and Ender’s Game with tons of nerd and pop culture references. Cline uses those elements to build the story and make it seem pretty plausible. Well, about as plausible as any sci-fi or fantasy story. And it is a great story. The pace and suspense build as the story progresses. You also get a feel for the sense of urgency as the story takes place only in a few days. He also takes care to question a big flaw in the logic of alien invasion fiction in movies, TV, and games, making said flaw a major piece of the story.

The cast of characters is very colorful and entertaining. And yes, there is a girl. Which brings me to my only real problem with Armada. and it’s not a problem with the girl. It’s that we don’t get to know her as much as I would have liked. One of the great things about Ready Player One is that the supporting cast was pretty well fleshed out. Parzival (the boy) was pretty established being the protagonist and all. And we got to know Art3mis (the girl) and Aech (the BFF) pretty well. And even though Daito and Shoto (the last two in Parzival's group) were not in the story as much, we got to know enough about them to care. In Armada, I didn’t get the sense of getting to know the people in Zach’s world as much. The girl, Alexis Larkin, is a hard core tattooed bad ass with killer gaming skills and even better skills when it comes to coding and hacking. She is a sci-fi nerd that Zack falls for like a bolt of lightning to the head. We do get to get a feel of how they are together, but there is no time to get into her back story and how she came about who she is. We also don’t get a really get to know Zach’s best friends, Diehl and Cruz, all that well. We do get a good sense of them and who they are, enough to like them. But like Alexis, we don’t learn all that much about their worlds. At least that is how I felt. Fleshing out their characters also could have slowed down the story. This is Zach's story after all. It's also a war story with impending doom on the horizon. And as a wise person once said, "Hey, Dr. Jones, no time for love."

In the end, this one minor issue does nothing to diminish my enjoyment of Armada. It's a great take and re-imagining of a classic sci-fi tale that pays homage to literally everything that came before it. If not in direct reference, then at least in spirit. It's a big risk that could have fallen flat with the fickle nerd crowd. But to quote Pvt. Vasquez's body armor in Aliens, "El riesgo siempre vive." The risk always lives. And Ernest Cline's second novel is fantastic.

Read my review of Cline's first novel, Ready Player One, HERE.

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