The Minor Critic
Have Video Game, Will Travel
Ernest Cline's Armada
By Ernest Cline
Review by Ethan DeWeese
Cline’s new book, Armada, came out this month. Armada is the story of Zack Lightman, a high school student whose favorite video game is called “Armada.” Armada is a big, free game—no advertisements, no content to download. In the game, players prepare and upgrade spaceships, go on defense missions, and shoot aliens. When a secret government agency takes Zack, along with other highly ranked gamers, to defend the world against an alien attack, Zack gets to experience the video game in real life. Everything at the government agency’s base is the same as in Armada—the same ships, weapons, moon bases, and drones—but it’s real. It turns out Armada was just a simulator preparing the game’s players for the real deal.
Armada is not as 80’s-driven as Ready Player One. (There are still a lot of 80’s references, just not as many as in Cline’s first book.) Instead, Armada is gaming-driven. Zack is more obsessed with games than the 80’s, and so was his father, who died in a mysterious explosion at a sewage plant when Zack was a baby. Zack has his father’s old books, movies, and video games, though, and they spark Zack’s interest in gaming.
In a review on Slate, Laura Hudson said Armada is just a giant heap of nostalgia and references to gaming culture, and if you take away the references, it has no plot. I feel this isn’t fair, because there is a plot, and a very good one, at that. What I liked most about Armada was how this kid is obsessed with this game and then actually gets to experience it in real life. He realizes that combat in real life is a lot scarier than in the game, and that the threat of extinction is all too real. He has to find the courage to defend Earth and risk his life to save humanity. The book has interesting characters, and the references to gaming culture just add to the fun of it.
When I read Ernest Cline’s books, I understand the gaming references and the characters’ motivations, and I enjoy this. Cline’s main audience is probably middle school readers or teens. (I’m thirteen and play video games often.) Adults that lived through the 1980’s and like action and video games would also like Cline’s books. (These are, essentially, the adults I play online video games with.) If you’re a fan of popular science fiction and like a good, fast-paced read, check out Armada.
Ethan DeWeese is in middle school in Portland, Oregon. The Minor Critic is a series in which writers under the age of eighteen review books or cultural items ostensibly aimed at them.