Armada starts out strong, creating an immersive alternate reality to our current present time, and then quickly loses its speed in an ocean of overwhelming battle scenes and gamer elitism. I was actually pretty excited to read Armada, especially because I enjoyed reading Ready Player One a few years ago. Armada stems from the same novel quality as Ready Player One in that they are centered around a video game driven world.
However, there were more things about Armada that I disliked than things I liked.
The main character is deeply flawed, and I spent the entire novel wishing he were, at the very least, a girl. Zack Lightman is every gamer guy we’ve ever hated. He’s elitist and snobby, obsessive, and a typical geeky teenage boy. In this first person narrative, Zack spends an unnecessary amount of time at the beginning narrating the technicalities of his favorite video game, Armada.
He describes in boring detail the design and function of a bunch of spacecrafts and weapons from the game, and then goes into excruciating detail of him and his two best friends playing the game. This goes on for way too long until the book finally starts getting to some interesting conspiracy plotlines.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this book was popular among the Gamergate side of the internet. The book praises the “individuality” of an angry teenage boy who believes he’s better than everyone else just because he’s good at a game. And then to put the cherry on top, Zack is then thrust into this situation where his gamer elitism is what saves the world. I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad plot choice, but I’m just trying to say that It made me feel a little bit uneasy.
I can definitely imagine a bunch of angry teenage boys rallying behind this book and bullying others for not being good at games.
I am sure Ernest Cline is just writing what he knows from his personal experience as a geeky teenage boy, but this story would have been so bold and dare I say it – better – if Zack had been written as a teenage girl instead.
Yes, there are several female characters in this book. But, if we take a closer look at them we realize that they are really just one-dimensional objects used to inflate Zack’s ego.
First, there is his mother. She is initially described as being a cool gamer mom. However, throughout the book, she is actually described as a worrying and protective nurse-mom. Zack’s mom constantly refers to him as “darling” and this just felt so unrealistic, especially as she is a young mom who had Zack when she was a teenager. Every time she said “Darling” I just imagined some robot mom on autopilot tending to her son’s every need and wish.
It would have been so cool if she had been given a proper personality and if she had fought along with everyone else during the battle scenes, as she was probably a great gamer too.
The, we have Alexis Larkin. The name Larkin means rough and fierce, which is how Cline describes Alexis when we are first introduced to her character. But, it takes only a short conversation with Zack to turn her into a ball of hearts and flowers who can’t resist Zack.
While we get to know a lot of the backstory of other people on Zack’s team, we don’t get to know much about Alexis other than information about her exceptional abilities at playing Armada’s sister game Terra Firma. Her entire relationship with Zack is very cringe worthy and poorly executed. From their awkward kiss just after meeting each other to proclaiming their love to each other when they think they’re going to die – it was just a mess.
This book does not need a teenage romance, and would have been better without one.
The focus of the book is on Zack’s relationship with his father and bringing in this romance added nothing good to the plot while also adding to the poor representation of women.
If we look past all of the flaws, there are a few fun and interesting things I enjoyed about Armada. I really like how Cline incorporates pop-culture and video games into this story. They are intricately woven together in a way that creates an immersive environment that I could clearly imagine. At first we believe, with Zack, that he is going a bit crazy just like his father, but are quickly thrust into a whole new universe. This isn’t some strange and distant future; it’s our present.
Cline does a good job at taking a creative detour that alters Zack’s universe into one so similar to the sci-fi and video games we’ve all played for years.
I really enjoyed the conclusion of the book, but I wish it had been elaborated in a better way. I wanted to know more about the Sodality and how their galactic community functions. Zack questions the integrity of the Sodality and we are left suspecting that there is some greater conspiracy occurring throughout the galaxy.
The way the ending was written, Cline has made a clear opening for a sequel. If the series does continue, I think there is so much potential for him to improve this universe he has created.
This review is cross-posted here under the title, ‘Armada is Flawed.’