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.
ERNEST 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.