The Space Opera That Just Sort of Spaced Out


Book Review



The Space Opera That Just Sort of Spaced Out

Everything was there for Armada. A great set-up, a semi-likable (albeit flawed) hero, and something not quite right on a quest that would change not only this hero’s journey, but also, the world, forever.

Only, when put into practice, Armada is painfully dull. The characters are flimsy and soggy as wet cardboard. The action sequences read like instruction manuals. The pop-culture references that made Ernest Cline’s first novel a hit are leaned heavily upon, and, more often than not, fail to connect. Because of these things, all the novel’s signature moves and climactic revelations take a steep nosedive, crash, and burn.

Armada had a high bar to clear to begin with. Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, was brilliant. Easily holding a place in my top 10 favorite book list, the novel has intelligence, humor, and a cleverness that sets it apart. Yet, Ready Player One does have shortcomings. The most notable is the lack of realness, depth, and interest in his characters that is needed. This flaw came out big time in Armada with the main character Zack, and extended throughout. Zack’s mentor shows up in the beginning, offers some sage wisdom, and departs the book almost entirely. The rest of the characters function in a similar manner where they do what is predictable and cliche, and spin the machine of deus ex machina that the story revolves upon.

Because of this, a lot of the book is description of battles and how the larger arc of the alien invaders society and the Earth Defense Alliance (EDA) work. Without characters to make these things relevant, it’s hard to focus on caring about these things. This made the book extremely tedious to finish. Armada calls itself a “space opera” when it comes to genre, but it didn’t deliver in the tradition of the most famous space opera that it references repeatedly: Star Wars.

The redeeming point of Armada is that the ideas are solid and fresh. The aliens that are the villains in this book are intelligent and formidably foes. The ties to present day society and the cultural landmarks as well as nerdom history are thoughtfully incorporated. I appreciate them even though I feel like I only recognized about 90% of them.

Overall, Armada feels like it was rushed to publication. A revision with some support for the characters and some paring down of the history behind all the workings of the forces behind the forces in the book would have greatly benefited the work. I’m still very much a fan of what Ernest Cline does. He also seems like just a really cool guy. I hope the theatrical version of Ready Player One will be only the beginning of his rise in popular fiction. I hope that Armada sails under the radar and flies far….far away.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via Blogging for Books. This, in no way, influenced my review of above work.


obliqueERNEST CLINE is a novelist, screenwriter, father, and full-time geek. His first novel, Ready Player One, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists, and is set to be adapted into a motion picture by Warner Bros. and director Steven Spielberg. Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games.

Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction


Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction

a book review on

Red Queen By Victoria Aveyard 

Teen literature has always tended to err on the angsty side. And I love that. Sometimes you just need a good, miserable wallow in things being not what they should.

Back in my day, growing up with Potter and Bella Swan, things would get dark and lives would be in danger, but the landscape was fairly navigable from deep trauma until you were too far in the series to care about saving yourself heartache when these characters disappeared. Now…welcome to a brave new world, where every other teen fiction book is part of a series and the first book usually hits hard with death, destruction, family massacre and dystopian visions of how much our future is going to suck.

A book like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard doesn’t stand out in the current world of teen fiction because it follows the formula they’ve all come to mimic (and to great success). There’s a teen heroine (sometimes a male, but less and less common) and she’s different. She loves her family and best male friend, and will do whatever it takes to save them from evil government/monarchy/monster mayhem. Also, it’s the future and the world is way messed up…kinda unlivable, a totally changed landscape. The differences to make the work unique with Red Queen are best summed up with an analysis  from GoodReads reviewer Rachel Carver who writes: “Red Queen is Game of Thrones with Katniss as the Mockingjay with X-Men…”

So nothing is new.

But does that mean that Red Queen is a “bad” book; not worth reading? Thankfully, no. Red Queen was a page-turner, written well, made intriguing with fun and terrifying characters, and told with a strong, admirable female narrator at the helm. I didn’t mind that it fused a lot of popular themes and story lines into one narrative. It was fun. It was also pretty traumatic.

Red Queen doesn’t pull any punches. Our main character, Mare Barrow, lives in a gritty future world on the bottom of the social totem pole, and when she’s given the chance to ascend into the ranks of hierarchy things get bloody and vicious. I’m not one to censure literature, and so if a teen has the capability to read this book and wants to, then go for it. But it reads like an adult work to me. I’m a Tarantino fan, and I was cringing at some of the blood lust.

Mayhaps, we should blame it on the changing society and violence you see just in a local newscast. Either way, Red Queen may be a captivating book, but it’s not a “nice” read.

I’ll be very interested to see what Aveyard does for the rest of the books in this series. Keeping up the momentum of this first book is going to be tricky, but she’s paved a good ground to establishing mystery and doubtful loyalties. Total kudos for making the romance that is so frequent in teen fiction more of a backdrop here, and not letting it dominate story-line or character action. Plus(!), Aveyard is just 23 years old. A work of this quality is accomplishment for any age, but that youthful element is nice to see.

Personally, I’d recommend it…but with my own “Parental Advisory” sticker in the description.


For Real

Time for another shocking confession. I don’t want to say that I’ve been neccessarily being untrue to you readers, but I’ve been doing a bit more fiction as opposed to fact as I’ve been blogging. In my diffence, I think I was just hoping that if I got exited enough about something that was partially true or rather not very true at all, then it would become true. Unfortunately things don’t work that way. The way things appear, are usually the way they are. If it smells like a fish, then it’s probably a fish. 

I wanted a relationship with Lanks. It seems that he didn’t want to be anyone’s man. He just wanted someone to play with as Kevin Barnes says in a favorite song of mine from the wonderful Skeletal Lamping album. The texts I send him go unanswered or are returned with condescention lately. I’ve no time to deal with someone who wants to patronize me and try to make me feel worthless. When someone says they don’t want to hurt you, but they do it anyway, almost on a religious basis, you’ve got to care about yourself enough to draw the line in the sand and be your own best friend. Love and respect yourself, and follow your bliss. It can’t be all bad if you stick to that. 

Other than all that, I had another 9-hr day. There was a store meeting today. I got up and made an Anchorman joke. I talked about coffee. I  made lots of drinks. I got frazzled by a couple of scam artists. I got asked to a movie. I walked the mall. Life goes on. 

Sure, I can’t exactly think of verbs and nouns to make it all seem interesting. And I’m having trouble finding a point in explaining them anyway. People live and things happen to them. Why do we want to hear about someone else’s day when ours is just as blaise?

I’m watchinig the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, and hoping to find some inspiration. How does one find such a great villian as a Dalek?  What rich mythos do we have to invoke to make a story that rings true with the masses? It’s characters that make these things, I think. If you have a good character, who’s funny , and intelligent, and determined, then they endear themselves to qualites we have or wish we had. 

How about a character who is known for a certain style. Converse and a leather wristband and plaid. Give the character catchprhases that are quirky and lovable. and somehow, make them a little tragic. We identify with the suffering of others, and their desires that go unfulfilled. Let them pine for someone who they can’t be with. Make them sacrifice everything for a dream that benefits the world but not themselves. We’ll say, ain’t it a shame, but we will remember this character and love them for these things they do. 

Here’s some real irony for you. The first mix cd I ever sent to Lanks via mail I titled “Arcadia.” I named it after our first date spot, the arcade. I didn’t know that it is also the site of the final battle on Galifry of the time war in Doctor Who. Lanks is a massive fan. He must have imagined I was referencing this, when, in truth, I only learned of the connection today. Quite a funny thing life can be.

It’s 7:30 at night and it feels like it’s later than midnight. I feel like my brain keeps circling the facts and coming up with error messages. It feels like something is bigger on the inside, and I’m only seeing the small outside of it. I can’t be bothered to make sense. 

What kind of a person would drop everything to follow a silly professor/adventurer in a blue police box across time and space? To be a companion, I think you’ve got to have curiosity, but also a desire to leave everything you know to seek out something that’s missing. I’m formally submitting my application to be a companion. I need a Doctor to show me that missing part of self. I may have to be my own Doctor, and that’s something I can come to terms with. I’ve given up almost everything of the life I was living at this time last year, and I’ve entered a new time. I can go anywhere and be anyone I need to be. I just need to discover something about my world, myself, and other worlds in this process. 

I’m ready to hear that wheezing, clanking sound of hope. If only escape could be so easy. Perhaps we are all drawn to stories that offer us this kind of promise of escape. Campbell is the one suggesting we be as present as possible in our realities, lapping up the experiences we counter and lathering ourselves in the detail of the mundane as much as the magnificent. We need a character that does both of these things for us. They need to help us out of our rutted existence and simultaneously to enjoy our now, connecting with those who share similar wanderlust and housecat mentality.

No matter the journey we are on, we know too that our character will have to reach the end of her or his adventure at some point as well. Endings are bittersweet. If our character is metaphorically returning home in a sense, we can be happy for them if they take this trip with grace. (Trenzalore anyone?) So maybe I’ll just ask for grace in my journey. I hope that I’ve reached the beginning of the good part of the journey. At any rate, I think I’ve at least started the path. When you follow your bliss, you meet others on the path that share this said concept. Perhaps I’ve got it all twisted around in the timey-whimey of things. Maybe I’m the time lord and my companion is just waiting for me to land and settle myself.  

-Anna R. Kotopple