Ernest Cline's highly anticipated follow-up to his 2011 bestseller, Ready Player One, is just hours away from being released to the public. For whatever reason, novelists who achieve widespread critical and commercial success with their first novel, like Cline himself, are always under a microscope when a new novel is released. With Armada, he has stuck with the storytelling elements and ideas that made his first novel such a beloved addition to the science fiction cannon. He is a rare writer that is not afraid to pen a love letter to his nerdy obsessions which make his novels incredibly intimate stories despite their light-hearted fun and prose that is simple enough for readers of almost any age to enjoy. Whether or not readers will pick up on each intricate reference that Cline deploys onto the page is another question. For that reason, Cline's novels are incredibly accessible and readable, but for readers with an abundance of geek culture facts floating in their minds, his work genuinely provokes nostalgic emotions and feelings of accomplishment when these subtle references are picked up on throughout the story. A simple search for Armada on Google will lead to varying reviews, some good and some not so flattering, and the latter come from those who blatantly deny the culture that Cline embodies and represents.
To be clear, Ready Player One is the superior work by Cline in almost every way, but that novel was oozing with so much excellence that saying that Armada is worse is like saying that Better Call Saul is worse than Breaking Bad. Of course, Ready Player One is better, and as I have stated in a previous article, it is the best video game focused novel of all time. However, Armada is anything but disappointing, and a worthy addition into Ernest Cline's small, but impressive, list of works.
For those familiar with Cline's work, which many are, his latest novel implores many of the same tactics used in Ready Player One. The word armada is the Portuguese and Spanish word for naval fleet and the Czech and Slovak word for armed forces. The armada in this novel is an extraterrestrial space fleet that is threatening human existence. It just so happens to be the name of the multiplayer video game that our protagonist, high school senior Zack Lightman and his buddies play online every night after school. Zack has lived his life wishing that something out of the ordinary would happen to him so that he could escape the mundane like he does within the video game simulator, and of course, that is exactly what happens in the opening chapters of Armada.
After Zack sees an enemy ship from the game in real life outside of his classroom window, he thinks he is going crazy, enough so that he races out of school and heads home to check on the unique possessions of his late, gamer father, Xavier Lightman. Being a top player of the game himself, Zack becomes an integral part of the impending war of humans versus aliens, using what else but the video game that he has spent years mastering.
This aspect is where Armada excels as Cline comments on the belief of some that video games are not valuable learning tools for kids growing up by making the ability to play video games at a high level the key to survival. Video games provide many positive benefits for young and older gamers alike. While this obviously amplifies the importance of playing video games, Cline makes real life connections to armed forces using video games and simulators in order to train recruits, as well as intertwining them with urban legends of nerd lore that are obscure but fascinating to research while reading.
Cline's pop culture knowledge is top notch, and what is so impressive about Armada is that even though he litters the pages with references spanning across the past fifty years, he does not cross into the content that was used in Ready Player One. His first novel was very much dedicated to classic video games and while it had movie, book, and music references as well, Armada has an even wider array of pop culture mixed with real historic events. This signifies the most intriguing part about the novel as Cline really does provide some history to build his story off of, making the premise familiar yet unique all at once.
A page-turner all the way through the Epilogue, Armada has an assortment of lovable characters and relationships, a plot that features multiple big twists, and an ending that is surprising, yet oddly fitting. It is an homage to science fiction's fascination with space, packed with cultural references and takes a distinctive spin on the human versus alien scenario. Ernest Cline's novels are hard to write about in detail without giving away any of the fun that comes with reading it yourself. It is a book that begs you to have a notepad by your side to scribble down all of the little nods at pop culture glory. The greatest compliment to Armada is that it will likely keep you guessing more than its predecessor.
Many will compare Armada to Orson Scott Card's classic, Ender's Game, and while that comparison is fair, Cline calls to it within the text on his own. It is not imitation, it is a reimagining of many Sci-Fi classics, building off of what made them successful, while providing a new level of complexity and insight into the standard humans versus aliens storyline. Ernest Cline has written a fantastic second novel, one that demands to be read multiple times in order to pick up on every little detail scattered throughout its text. Fans of Ready Player One, it is time to rejoice, and for those who have not experienced the work of Ernest Cline, surely there will be copies of Ready Player One to pick up alongside Armada. Cline is referred to fondly as the king of the nerds in some circles, and he is one of the hottest commodities in Hollywood right now. His second novel has secured himself a spot as an innovator of 21st-century science fiction, and by remembering and referencing the ones before him, his work is even more special. The hype is warranted for this treasure of a fiction writer. Armada's fleets arrive in stores tomorrow, July 14th, and it is the best science fiction novel you will read all year.