It’s been a year since Ernie Cline’s Armada arrived in bookstores. I read it, fast and furiously, for my original review last year (that you can read below), and when a copy of the upcoming paperback release arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago, I decided to give it another read.
Here’s what I believe to be the secret for geeks to reading and enjoying Armada –forget about Ready Player One (Cline’s first big hit), forget about your numerous viewings of The Last Starfighter, and definitely forget that Cline loves to fill every page with geeky quotes and sly nods. Just go into the story expecting to have a fun time. Don’t look for hidden meanings. Don’t look for some great whodunnit mystery. And most certainly don’t look for deep literature that will be on 10th-grade summer reading lists.
Here’s the thing about Ernie Cline’s books–they’re fun, plain and simple. Are there Death Star-sized plotholes? Sure. Does the protagonist have more geeky trivia in his head than is possible to have obtained in his short time on Earth? Absolutely. Does the geek get the girl in the end? Yes, but she’s just as much of a geek… match made in heaven.
We geeks have always hoped our gaming skills and geek trivia might one day prove useful, and here’s a story where that idea is taken to the extreme. Armada is fun, so go enjoy it for the first time… or the second.
Note: I received a copy of the paperback edition of Armada for this review. The paperback edition will be released on April 12, 2016. Below is an interview with Ernie Cline and the publisher about Armada. So… Spoiler Alert. Following the interview is my original review of Armada from May 2015. Double Spoiler Alert.
Pub: Let’s get right to the elephant in the room. The news is now out that your debut novel, Ready Player One, will be made into a film by Warner Brothers and legendary director Steven Spielberg (set to debut in theaters March of 2018)! What did you do when you got the news?
Cline: I pinched myself a few hundred times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming–then I re-watched all of his movies–including the Indiana Jones films, which helped inspire certain elements of RPO’s story, along with E.T. and Close Encounters, two Spielberg films that played a large role in inspiring Armada. His work has influenced me throughout my life and writing career, so it’s a dream come true to have the opportunity to collaborate with him on the film adaptation of a story that his work helped inspire.
Pub: What do you think of the casting announcements that have been made already?
Cline: I think they’re fantastic! I’ve been a fan of Ben Mendelsohn’s acting since the ’80s, and his portrayal of John Daggett in The Dark Knight Rises is all the proof I need that he’s perfect for the role of Sorrento. Olivia Cooke is amazing on Bates Motel and in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. She’s going to make a great Art3mis! And after seeing Tye Sheridan in films like Mud and Joe, I think he’s one of the most talented young actors working today, and that he’ll do an incredible job playing Wade Watts.
Pub: For decades, science-fiction writers have been predicting some of the most incredible futuristic concepts that have become reality, such as debit cards, video conferencing, ear buds, and even accurate details about men landing on the moon. In Ready Player One, the merging of virtual reality technology and social media that you write about is now a reality with the Oculus Rift virtual reality company being bought by Facebook. Are there any similar futuristic technologies in Armada that you think will become reality in the next few years?
Cline: Yes, but the future is happening so fast now it’s getting more and more difficult to stay ahead of it. Armada‘s plotline involves two concepts–quantum data teleportation and 3-D drone printing–that were still science fiction when I started the book, and then became a proven reality before I finished it. I need to write faster.
Pub: In the novel, Zack’s Armada pilot call sign is IronBeagle, an homage to the Snoopy vs. the Red Baron album. Did you have fun creating the other various call signs in the novel: RedJive, MaxJenius, Viper, Rostam, Whoadie, AtomicMom, Kushmaster5000?
Cline: Pilot call signs are always fun to create–like an avatar’s name in Ready Player One; it’s a nickname a person creates for themselves, so it invariably says something about their self-image and their character–like each of the call signs you listed above.
Pub: Talk to us about Xavier’s “Raid the Arcade” mix playlist in the book. How did you choose the songs, which became an essential part of Zack’s Armada gaming ritual? Do you have any rituals of your own when it comes to playing videogames?
Cline: Many of those are songs from the mix tapes I used to make to listen to on my Walkman at the local arcade. Some of the songs are from movies that played a role inspiring Armada‘s story, like the song “Iron Eagle” by King Kobra, from the film of the same name.
Pub: In Armada, Zack and his father, Xavier Lightman, your novel’s two main heroes, are both big science-fiction fans. The book is filled with references to sci-fi films, such as The Last Starfighter, E.T., Aliens, the Star Wars franchise. Dare to share your all-time favorite sci-fi flick?
Cline: My all-time favorite sci-film would have to be Star Wars, aka Episode IV–A New Hope. The movie and its sequels created the entire mythology of my youth, and altered the course of my life and career.
Pub: In Armada, Zack soon finds out that the EDA (Earth Defense Alliance), a top-secret global military coalition, is not just a fictional agency featured in the videogames he’s been playing. If the EDA were real (and we’re not saying they aren’t) and invited you to join their ranks, would you? Would Moon Base Alpha be your first station of choice, or would you prefer something closer to home?
Cline: Of course I would join up! If the EDA existed, I would have to pitch in and use my gamer skills to help save the world. But I would prefer to stay here in Austin and telecommute, so I could fight off the invasion from the comfort of my couch, without changing out of my pajamas.
Pub: There is a romantic plotline woven throughout the novel, albeit one that is a bit nontraditional (boy meets girl as Earth is under attack from alien invaders, girl is a kick-ass gamer who helps save boy’s butt during attack, you get the gist). Did you feel it was essential to add this element, or did the relationship between Zack and Lex come about naturally as you were writing the novel?
Cline: It came about naturally as I was writing. I love stories with strong female characters, who kick just as much ass (if not more) than their male counterparts, so the stories I write usually tend to have a few of them. I also believe that every good adventure story also includes a little romance. And some rock and roll, too.
Pub: If you could meet anyone from pop culture–actor, singer, game creator–dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Cline: Carl Sagan. Because he changed my life by opening my eyes to the nature of the world and the cosmos, and I’d love to be able to thank him in person.
Pub: The first arcade game you ever played was Space Invaders. Is there a game that you’ve been playing recently that’s become a new obsession?
Cline: Finishing this book has been my only obsession for the past few years. But during my research, I did play a lot of space combat and flight simulation games, both old and new. The problem with playing videogames as “research” for a novel is that you never want to stop playing to go off and actually write it.
Pub: Many people look back at the ’50s and ’60s as a watershed moment for science-fiction writing, but do you see the ’70s and ’80s as an even richer epoch for inspiration with the confluence of all the new videogames introduced and some of the best science-fiction TV and movies ever made (to my mind!)?
Cline: The ’70s and ’80s are a rich era for sci-fi inspiration (at least, for me) because that was the dawn of the computer, videogame, and Internet age–the one we still live in now. It was also a golden age for movies and television shows, which may be why every property from that time is being reimagined or rebooted right now.
Pub: Armada is dedicated to your brother, Major Eric T. Cline. What is your relationship like and why did you choose to dedicate the book to him?
Cline: My brother and I are very close, and have been our whole lives. He’s always been a huge inspiration to me. He joined the Marine Corps as a lowly private, and over the past two decades he has worked his way up through the ranks to become a major while he traveled all over the world helping people and risking his life for his country and his comrades. Seeing all the sacrifices he and his family have had to make during his various deployments was part of the inspiration for Armada’s story and characters.
Pub: There is a rumor you now own not one but two DeLoreans. How on Earth did that come about?
Cline: I bought a second DeLorean to give away as the grand prize in the Ready Player One Easter Egg Hunt. A few years later, the contest winner decided to sell the car to pay off some unexpected medical bills, so I decided to buy it back from him. Then I gave it to my brother, Eric, so now I’m back down to just one time machine, which is plenty.
Pub: Is it true that George R. R. Martin once borrowed your DeLorean to help promote the opening of his new bar (complete with a Back to the Future screening)? There has to be one heck of a story here. Please explain!
Cline: George and I had met at a convention, where he had sat in my car. So when his theater decided to screen BTTF, he thought of me and asked to borrow my DeLorean. I said yes, of course!
Pub: For your Ready Player One book tour you drove your time-traveling DeLorean across the country. Did you take it out again for Armada?
Cline: No, I think one Time Machine Book Tour is probably enough to last a lifetime. I discovered that it’s not really safe to drive a tricked-out DeLorean on the interstate highway system, because the people around you are often swerving/driving recklessly while they attempt to snap a photo of your car to post on Facebook. There are safer ways to travel.
Pub: It’s been a few years since you were last out on a book tour. Were you surprised by the fan response at your events this time around? Did it feel very different from your initial experience with Ready Player One?
Cline: Yes, the huge turnout for each of my Armada signings really floored me. It’s incredibly flattering and humbling to see hundreds of people cram into a bookstore just to hear me speak, and then to see all of those same fans wait patiently in line–sometimes for an hour or more–to get their books signed. Taking the time to do that is one of the biggest compliments you can pay any artist. I’m incredibly grateful to have my work reach such a wide audience, and to have so many people respond to it with such enthusiasm.
Pub: Are there any particular moments or fan interactions that stand out to you from the tour?
Cline: This was the first tour where I had fans show up at my signings sporting Ready Player One-themed tattoos. It really blew me away. When someone pulls up their sleeve and they have three keys or three gates tattooed on their arm, I’m always awed by that level of enthusiasm. And moved that something I created could mean that much to them.
Pub: We have to ask: As a serious Star Wars nerd, what were your feelings about The Force Awakens? How about the choice to pass the baton to Rian Johnson for Episode VIII?
Cline: I enjoyed the hell out of that movie. I’d been waiting to see Han, Chewie, Luke, and Leia together again on the big screen since 1983, and living up to 30 years of geek anticipation is no small feat. I thought J. J. Abrams knocked it out of the park. And Rian Johnson is one of the smartest and most gifted writer-directors of my generation–the generation that grew up with Star Wars. He’s such an exciting choice. Kathleen Kennedy really knows what she’s doing.
Pub: What’s your dream Star Wars spinoff movie? Any character or storyline you’re itching to see explored?
Cline: Yes! How about a whole movie covering the origin story of Saun Dann, the character portrayed by Art Carney in the Star Wars Holiday Special? He was a secret agent of the Rebel Alliance masquerading as a trader on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk after the Battle of Yavin. You know that dude must’ve seen action during the Clone Wars, too. I’d also pay good money to see a stand-alone Star Wars flick about Willrow Hood.
May 2015 Review of Armada
We all knew the day was coming, and now it’s almost here. I’m talking about the release of geek-guru Ernest Cline’s second novel, Armada. If you’re a geek and haven’t read Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, I’ll give you a pass this one time and let you know that you have until July 14, 2015, to grab a copy, sit down, and read it. Otherwise… consider your geek membership credentials under review. (Look, you’ve had since the book’s 2011 release to get it read. Enough excuses!)
For those of you who did read Ready Player One and have waited and wondered whether Cline could deliver the goods again… I’m about to answer that question. And I will do my best to try and not ruin any major surprises. That said, I will provide some basic plot details that can be had from reading the book’s basic description on any number of websites, including the official Armada website here. So, if you don’t wish to know anything about Armada, stop reading NOW.
Eighteen-year-old Zack Lightman is preparing to graduate high school, but he’s not aiming high. He works part-time at a local retro videogame business, Starbase Ace, and what he wants to do most in the world is move into a full-time position. And play videogames. So when Zack’s daydreaming and staring out the window during class and sees a UFO that looks strikingly familiar to an enemy he faces in a popular computer game, he thinks he must be losing his mind. And there’s a precedent for that, too — his father died just after Zack was born, and when Zack got older and his mom gave him a key to the attic where his father’s possessions were stored, he discovered a strange notebook containing his father’s notes about a grand conspiracy involving Star Wars, Space Invaders, the Atari 2600, and much more. Over 50 bits of geek trivia beginning with the creation of the Space War computer game in 1962 to the release of Galaxy Quest in 1999.
After examining the notebook a little closer, Zack comes to one conclusion — his dad may very well have been a little crazy, with videogames spilling over into his real life. And now Zack is having hallucinations. This isn’t good.
But what if dad weren’t crazy? What if certain videogames and movies and books and TV shows were created and released solely to ready the world and train an army for an impending alien invasion?
Zack is ranked #6 out of the millions of players who enjoy one of the most realistic videogames out there, Armada. He’s one of the best players, but it’s still just a game. But Zack still dreams — saving the planet, getting the girl, and rocking out to his dad’s Raid the Arcade music mix while piloting a real ADI-88 Aerospace Drone Interceptor. So, you can imagine Zack’s surprise when a troop transport, straight out of the video game and complete with the Earth Defense Alliance logo on its side, lands outside his school and a couple of MIBs whisk him off to a secret hidden base where he learns that he’s been recruited to help defend the planet. And a certain much-loved geek movie pops into his mind…
As a matter of fact, as Zack learns more and more about the Earth Defense Alliance and the alien enemy that he and the millions of other Armada players will be facing, he begins to notice more patterns and themes that the EDA, filled with geeks like him, should have caught… but have somehow overlooked. And that’s when Zack starts to really question the motives and goals of the EDA and the unknown enemy, and realizes he may have to take matters into his own hands. The meek may inherit the Earth, but a geek is gonna save it.
Remember that feeling you had when you finished Ready Player One? Do you recall thinking to yourself that this writer just gets what being a geek is all about? Can you think back to how you reacted to discovering all the little hidden geek gems tucked away, some of them quite tricky and others plainly over-the-top? Armada is a different type of story, no doubt, but the nods and winks are all there just as you’d expect from someone who took geek culture and used it to gift wrap his first unique and enjoyable novel. Cline’s pulled it off… no one-hit wonder here.
Armada will provide fans with exactly what they expect and have been anxiously waiting for — an entertaining story that weaves geek mythology together with a coming-of-age tale. And a possible secret hidden base on the Moon.
I finished Armada exactly as I did with Ready Player One — with a smile on my face and looking forward to a second read.