Ernest Cline’s Armada is a preposterous, porously plotted, pop-culture checking, piece of protracted nonsense. It’s also good fun in a silly sort of way. I think I last felt like this when reading The Da Vinci Code
I enjoyed Ready Player One, though I found it a bit repetitive, because it simultaneously managed to be fresh and nostalgic. RP1‘s fresh originality would be difficult to mange second time, and whilst Cline almost pulls it off, ultimately he falls short, often mistaking throwing in a quote from a film with character development.
The biggest difference between the two novels is the depth of the geekiness. In RP1 it feels embedded into the fabric of the story (mostly because it is; the book is about hidden secrets in computer games, placed there by a gaming geek), but in Armada they feel sprayed on. Earth is trundling along as normal, when suddenly alien spacecraft appear. Alien spacecraft from a fictional computer game. That in a nutshell might be the problem. The main point of reference is made up and all the geekyness is bolted on to it.
The story itself is a sort of Ender’s Game, Last Starfighter mash-up. It’s entertaining enough but not very solid. It’s not helped by the fact that similar themes are addressed, with a whole lot more meaning added, in TL Costa’s excellent Playing Tyler. If you only read one of these novels make sure it’s Playing Tyler.
It’s difficult to say much more without giving lots away. Perhaps everything is deliberately kept light, and veneer thin, in keeping with the source material; Space Invaders doesn’t have much of a back-story. It doesn’t help that Cline spends a lot of time explaining how the premises behind computer games rarely make sense. As his book is predicated on a computer game that is meant to be real, the reader spends a lot of time thinking ‘but this doesn’t make sense’, for all the reasons the author lined up.
Ultimately it does just about make sense, but it isn’t terribly convincing. One can’t really help shake the feeling the entire story is a MacGuffin. The story is pacey, the reference spotting good fun, but Armada is destined to be little more than geeky beach read, forgotten before the flight home.