Armada by Ernest Cline
The Nitty Gritty: Zack Lightman is a gamer, one of the best in the Earth Defence Alliance. The fiction world of the game Armada and Terra Firma. Life is pretty easy and dull in Beaverton, OR. He plays video games, works at a dumpy little gamer shop in a shopping center and tries not to kill the high school bully.
Life doesn't seem to be going anywhere, till he spots a flying saucer at school, then his world is rocked like a James Bond martini. Suddenly all those hours spent with a controller in his hand isn't time wasted. It was training, and he is going to need that training if he is going to save the world.
Along the way Zack will learn secrets about himself, his family and the world that he would never have dreamed of. This is a battle of the cosmos and its anyone's game.
Opening Line: "I was starting out of the classroom window and daydreaming of adventure when I spotted the flying saucer."
The Good: Let me say the dust jacket for Armada is one of the prettiest I've seen in a good while. It has a good hand feel; I love just running my hands over this cover. The illustrations are wonderfully rendered, and my copy even includes an autograph. I thought that was sweet.
Cline gets his geek on in a major way in his books and that shows through his writing like a chocolate stain on a white shirt. You couldn't miss it if you tried. I love books where authors write in their wheel houses. It adds a layer of richness to the books that is refreshing and surprising.
Unlike Ready Player One we don't get a constant and consistent cast of characters to fall in love with, in Armada, the cast shifts and changes constantly but the characters are well planned and thought out that the brief flashes we get of them we love them. We care about them and what happens to them. I was invested in
While there was romance in the book. I liked that he curtailed all the lovey dovey crap from Ready Player One. There were times I wanted to strangle Wade with my bare hands, but here Cline cut that crap off at the knees. Zack has a slight crush on Alexis, and Alexis seems to return the affections, but we don't have to put up with all the hormones because he is literally sent to the Moon for his assignment.
Zack seemed to have a bigger pair than Wade did, and he was only marginally smarter. I felt like Cline started with stock characters, the gaming nerd, and only changed a few little things about them. But I do admit I like Zack a little more than I did Wade. Though Zack's little screw up at the top secret facility was an epic fail and it felt more like a pissing contest than him actually trying to save the day. And what's worse it didn't make any sense. So I don't know why Zack would have done what he did. There was no forthcoming payoff or glory in it.
The Bad: As soon as Ray was unmasked I could tell what the ending was going to be. It was painfully predictable. I think he spent more time in the geekory and not enough time on the actual story.
75% of this book is actually just explaining things. And the rest is left to the real story. Cline kept explaining and reexplaining said things over and over again. Its like he thinks his readers will forgot how he described the Glaive fighter jet from one chapter to the next. So each time we get reintroduced to every little element. It wastes time and it takes up valuable real estate in the book. Real estate that he sorely needed to really work on the plot.
The bait setup that got the whole story rolling was cringeworthy. It really is, and its lame as hell and I wanted to scream to the heavens. Cline can vividly imagine and describe fictional interstellar crafts, but he fails every time when it comes to flushing all the potential out of his plots, and whats worse he has really good plots! I think Cline gets caught up with how much nerd knowledge he could cram into this book and Carl Sagan and the Cosmos was his starting point.
Cline spends more than half of the book setting up the final battle, and then its rushed. The book is 349 pages long and its not until page 330 that the the actual plot of the book really starts to take off. And when we get to the climax its 3 pages long.
My Hope for future books: I really want Cline to step back from the nerd herd and focus more on honing the actual craft of writing a book. He is great with characters and weaving info dumps into the story without you actually noticing, but he keeps fails on plot, story structure and development.