Armada by Ernest Cline
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Source: ARC from publisher (BEA)
Goodreads link: (click here)
What's it about?
Zack Lightman is a hot-headed teen gamer. His life pretty much consists of counting down the days until he no longer has to go to school, controlling his anger, working at a tiny video game store and playing Armada, an alien-invasion themed video game. Zack is the 6th highest ranked pilot in Armada, which took a lot of hard work and many hours in front of the screen. Armada is how he escapes from reality. In the game, he's the IronBeagle, ace fighter pilot on a mission to save the Earth from the squid-like Sobrukai invaders. In the real world, he's "Zack Attack", the kid with anger management issues. These issues, in part, stem from the loss of his father when Zack was just a baby. His father was killed in an explosion at a sewage plant and all he has to remember him by are a few boxes of his belongings in the attic. He left behind old sci-fi movies, 80s mix tapes, some D & D books, a jacket covered in gaming patches and some notebooks. From all of this, Zack figures out that his father was a gamer geek, just like him, but it's in his fathers notebooks that Zack makes a disturbing discovery. His father believed that there was a government conspiracy involving pop-culture, video games and aliens. This, of course, leaves Zack thinking that his father was crazy, and when Zack sees a UFO hovering over the town one day, he begins to question his own sanity. That is, until later when a ship straight out of Armada comes to collect him to go on a mission to save the world.
Shock and awe are what Zack experiences as he is taken to a top secret base and he's told that he's been chosen because of his gaming expertise to help defend Earth from an impending alien invasion. He and millions of gamers around the world must now turn their guns, planes, ships and giant robots against a real enemy. How can this all be true? It seems too much like the movies, but Zack quickly realizes that the Earth really is in danger and he has no choice but to use his skills to stop the aliens from destroying the planet. But something just doesn't seem right about all of this. There is no doubt that the invaders are trying to kill them and people are dying, but what is the real story behind it all? It just seems so familiar and Zack truly believes that there is more to this real-life fiasco than the plots of the movies Independence Day and The Last Starfighter. It's up to Zack to figure it out and hopefully save the world (or die trying).
Now THAT was fun! What a ride! Aliens, space ships, video games, giant robots, pop-culture refrences galore, kick-ass music, action, adventure, romance and ordinary people getting a chance to save the world!!! Hell Yeah!!
I'm not really a gamer (although I did log many, many hours on Starfox back in the day) but do I love all the sci-fi movies that were mentioned in the book. I admit that back in the 80s I used to wish that I'd be taken into space to fight against aliens in an some sort of epic battle (like in The Last Starfighter - one of my favorite movies). I'm definitely a sci-fi junkie, so this book was pretty much perfect for me.
Beyond it being a fun, blast 'em away, alien-invasion adventure (with GIANT ROBOTS!), it was a smart and touching coming-of-age story. Zack goes from being an angry kid with no future, to the only hope for the future of the planet. He comes to terms with the loss of his father and deals with family secrets and government betrayal. While this is not considered YA (let's face it, I usually review YA), it could absolutely be read by a YA audience. It's about a teenager, after all. The only issues I see that could present a problem for teen readers is that they may not get all the pop-culture, movie and music references. But, on the bright side, it's an excellent opportunity to check out their gloriously cheesy awesomeness! Take, for instance, the "Raid the Arcade" playlist from the book:
I'm pretty sure I had that exact tape a long time ago. If you're not familiar with the songs, I advise checking them out. I've had Black Betty running through my head ever since I finished Armada. This really provided an awesome soundtrack for the book/experience. The songs pop up at just the right times to go with the action and plot.
Another thing Armada has going for it is the incredibly diverse cast of characters. They come from all walks of like, from all over the world, and they are all coming together to fight against a common enemy. Some of them don't even show up for long, but they definitely leave an impression.
I have not yet read Ready Player One, Ernest Cline's previous book, but I will definitely be picking it up now. I read Armada first because it appealed to me more. I know that Stephen Spielberg is making the Ready Player One movie and I REALLY hope that Armada is up next. HOLY MOLY, would it make an awesome movie!
Anime and manga fans will love this as well! I know I said it before, but again...GIANT ROBOTS! It's also got space ships, bad guys, a little bit of romance, a lot of action and plenty of drama.
Armada was so much fun! If you like sci-fi adventure, it's a must read!