Cue up Staind’s “It’s Been Awhile” right about now, ladies and gents. My inability to take on this reading challenge is surprising even me. The main reason is I’m trying to make headway in all areas of the backlog. Finally reading my graphic novels, watching my movies and shows, and playing my vidja games. Actually, it’s this book’s fault I started playing vidja games again! I kinda wish I could insert a soundbite of someone whispering “segue” right there. Anyhoo, let’s take a look at the first repeat offender in the reading challenge with Ernest Cline’s second book, Armada.
Our hero this time is Zack Lightman–a super-nerd in his last year of high school. With his description, you’d think the kid would be an ample target for bullying, but nope. Dude has anger issues, and he beat the ever-loving hell out of the main jerk on campus many years ago. Said issues stem from the fact his father died when he was extremely young, and Zack never got to know the man he resembles–both physically and in personality– so much. So, people tend to give him his space. “Space” is something Zack’s kinda obsessed with (*whispers* segue). See, Zack is ranked in the top ten of the most popular video game in the world, Armada. In that game, players take control of various types of drones to combat the evil invading Sobrukai aliens. Zack is in love with that game…until one day at school he sees a Sobrukai ship flying around town. He does what anyone would do at that moment: He fears for his sanity and swears to go cold turkey. Fortunately for Zack (unfortunately for the world), the Sobrukai are real, from Europa, and preparing to wipe out humanity, and Armada was really a training simulator developed to recruit soldiers for the upcoming war. Times is hard, yo.
Another great book from Cline. Also, kinda a disappointment from Cline. I like the guy’s style, and I love all the nerd stuff that goes into his books. I just want to see what he can do without relying so heavily on pop culture. I know it’s only his second book, but I hope this doesn’t become his crutch. On the bright side, it isn’t as prevalent as it was in Ready Player One. Granted, neither world really exists without video gaming, but the nerding out is much more toned down in Armada.
I love the protagonist, though. He’s a good, genre-savvy kid with two good friends and a great mom, but he’s always had a chip on his shoulder. He deals with a lot throughout the story, and you can definitely see how much he develops by book’s end. Which is fascinating since I think the book takes place in the span of about two days…if that. War really does change ya, I guess.
Now that I’m writing about it, another thing that strikes me is there are really only two actual characters. I won’t say who the other is, but all the supporting characters are kinda just there. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all pretty cool. Zack’s mom is also a legit gamer; Lex, the girl he meets while being recruited, is fun hacker character; his two buddies are always arguing about the dumbest nerd things; and his fellow soldiers are all welcome additions to the story. Sure, the drawback to kinda having only two characters is everyone else’s development gets thrown to the wayside, but the way in which Zack’s character arc was done more than makes up for it. Plus, you can feel that most of these characters existed before the beginning of the story, which is always a plus.
Aside from the seeming reliance on nerd culture, my only other big complaint is the ending. Feels like it wraps up too nicely for me. Don’t get me wrong, the toll is real, but how everything ends just seems rushed and off-balance. But, I do like what the epilogue hints at and wouldn’t mind seeing this world again.
All in all, even though the nerding isn’t as consuming as it was in his first book and the main character here is much better, I think I like RPO a little bit more. Maybe I thought the world was cooler, or maybe I liked having more real characters. I dunno. What I do know is Ernest Cline has me hooked, and I can’t wait to see what he cooks up next. Speaking of next (*whispers* segue), the next book on the reading challenge is a book of short stories. What will it be? Stay tuned to find out.