ARMADA is the story of Zack Lightman, a gamer teen who one day sees a spaceship straight out of his favorite game. It turns out that all the books, video games, and movies about Earthlings fighting off alien invasions have been a secret plan to prepare humanity to do just that. Zack, as one of the best gamers in the world, is recruited to defend Earth from
the Ko-Dan armada the bugs…er, let’s just call them space invaders, okay?
As you can see, this is a story that has been told many, many times. Cline almost goes to pains telling you this, recalling ENDER’S GAME, The Last Starfighter, and almost every other instance. Whereas READY PLAYER ONE (another wish-fulfillment tale of a nerdy guy winning at life) had good reason to pepper the story with pop culture references, in ARMADA, these references only serve to remind readers that Cline is retreading territory we are all familiar with. It’s not an auspicious start to the book.
But even that stumbling start would be forgivable if Cline did something original with the basic set up. Instead, this is just nerdspeak for the sake of nerdspeak. It doesn’t add anything to the story. If I was going to be super generous and simply call it a stylistic choice–although one that gets very old very quickly–what really bothered me is that the story goes downhill from a starting point of cliche and repetition. My biggest problem with the book is that Lightman never has to risk or pay a cost for his actions. I never really believe he could be in danger. So when he gets everything he wants, I don’t feel like he’s earned it. I just didn’t care. Of course, there’s a whole lot of other WTF-ery with the ending too.
In case you think I’m being too harsh, let me explain. During his first real briefing, Lightman is too busy flirting to listen. This results in him screwing up big time, but there are no consequences for the screw up. In fact, he gets a promotion. Even worse, for the most part, he’s flying drones. So there’s no real danger to his person, no real risk to his flying and fighting. He saves the day, finds his dad, gets the girl, and gets the respect of his high school bully. Yeah…
Unfortunately, I think when it comes to Cline’s writing, at least for me, it’s game over.