Review: “Amada” by Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline

Crown, 2015.

“I was staring out the classroom window and daydreaming of adventure when I spotted the flying saucer.”

A nice opening to Armada, the hotly anticipated follow-up to Ernest Cline’s best-selling paean to ’80s pop culture, Ready Player One. Pity the rest of the novel doesn’t hold up to that promise.

Like Ready Player One, Armada is chock-a-block with geek culture references. Unlike Ready Player One, however, the endless barrage of movie and video game quotes serve little purpose than to cover up a paper-thin plot that liberally borrows from greater works.

Zack Lightman is a Mary Sue video-game expert whose father died when Zack was an infant. As an attempt to connect with his absent father, he has devoted himself to his father’s obsessions, ’80s movies, video games Rush, and a global conspiracy of science fiction authors to prepare the world for an impending alien invasion.

The last one turns out to be true, of course. And the video game that Zack has become an expert at, the flight/battle simulator “Armada,” is a training program to prepare fighters in the coming invasion.

Sound like Ender’s Game? Or The Last Starfighter? That’s because those sci-fi touchstones were part of Cline’s global conspiracy.

Suffice to say, our plucky author insert hero leads the battle against the aliens and saves humanity, all the while expounding on Iron Eagle, Star Wars spaceships and shouting “Leeroy Jenkins!” This worked in Ready Player One, or at least worked enough that I was willing to overlook the novel’s problems. But Armada is so similar that it’s impossible to feel like anything but a retread.

Ready Player OneCline’s enthusiasm was infectious in Ready Player One, enough to cover the obvious flaws in the story. Here he just sounds like that guy who won’t shut up about his comic collection. I know, because I’ve been that guy. Probably still am, honestly.

So I’ll cut Cline a little slack, but there was a lot of wasted potential in Armada. Despite its flaws, Ready Player One had a lot of heart, Armada has a giant plot hole in its place.

You can read more about that in my full review at “The Nameless Zine.”

Update: I docked this another star. Because the more I think about it, the more I hate it.

—Michael Senft

Buy Armada

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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