Review, Armada by Ernest Cline, reviews by Mike Phelps

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[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”0804137250″ cloaking=”default” height=”500″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Wcvrk9laL.jpg” tag=”superversivesf-20″ width=”329″]Armada takes the position that the “alien invasion of Earth” scenario is played and long overdue for a tongue-in-cheek send up. A high school senior named Zack, is a gifted gamer, specializing in POV shooter games that simulate air-to-air combat. Zack’s hold on reality is tested as he becomes aware of a secret worldwide organization preparing for an impending alien invasion. He also learns he and his fellow gamers have unknowingly been co-opted by a vast military-industrial complex that has been using movies and video games to prepare the population to fight the aliens. If all that isn’t enough to make his head spin, it turns out that the late father Zack has been idolizing is alive and at the center of the global conspiracy.

Zack is crammed to the gills with enough pop culture trivia to make the most committed fanboy giddy. Ernest Cline wrote quite a few funny lines, but they are eventually buried under the shear weight of science fiction, video game and other pop culture references. The references to Star Wars and Missile Command were welcome at first, but a knowing smile later turned into a frown as opportunities for meaningful dialogue between characters were neglected in favor of them trading movie quotes with one another.

Armada tries to be the ultimate wish-fulfillment story for every sci-fi/gamer who ever sat in his basement dreaming about saving the world and getting the girl. Zack gets the girl. She’s cute, smart, edgy and one of the most skilled gamers around. In other words she’s every nerd’s fantasy. She points to the larger problem: the constant stream of references, the long lost father, the perfect girl, the video game training feel like a dream. I half expected Zack to wake up and realize he’s been in third period algebra all along. I’m glad Cline didn’t pull the “it’s all just a dream” cheat, but the boyhood fantasies fulfilled themes feel like almost the same thing.

I’m on record with other reviews as not having a lot of patience with the overuse of the government/global conspiracy to withhold the truth to advance an otherwise promising storyline. Armada takes it a step further with the aliens spinning their own even less convincing conspiracy to test Earthlings. Even with these and other frustrations, Cline has written a mostly entertaining story that will likely appeal to gamers, particularly the older ones who nostalgic for the golden years of the nineteen – eighties.

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