Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada by Ernest ClineZach Lightman has immersed his life in science fiction movies and video games. Never knowing his father, who passed away, Zach searched for something in his life to take him away from his dull, everyday existence.  Desperate to know more about his father, he spends hours in the attic, pouring through his father’s journals.  He finds that his father also sought for something profound in his life.  Zach learns that they were both intrigued by the popularity of science fiction movies and video games. However, his father’s interests were borderline obsessive. What if the popularity of science fiction movies, television shows, and video games had a deeper meaning? 

Zach’s dull life is suddenly interrupted by the unbelievable. He spots a flying saucer in the sky, the very same craft he saw every night as he battled alien invaders in an online flight simulator game, Armada.  It isn’t long until Zach’s fears of his insanity are dismissed. His skills, along with millions of gamers across the world, are brought to the test when it is revealed that Armada isn’t only a video game, but a means to test and train the world’s most talented fighter pilots. With an alien invasion imminent, Zach and the other high-scoring players are the only ones who can save Earth.  Is he the only one who sees that the science fiction stories and movies he grew up with are coming to life before them?

This latest adventure by Cline (following the hugely successful Ready, Player One), like the video game it is named for, Armada, is more than what it seems at face value.  Filled to the brim with pop-culture from the 70s and 80s, it is also an intensely contemplative coming-of-age story. Like many teens, Zach struggles to find deeper meaning in his life. When presented with the unbelievable, he searches for more, certain that there is a message, a meaning, in the intense and world-ending battle surrounding them.

Although some readers may struggle with what seems to be an overwhelming amount of techno-babble and pop-culture references, how can you not love a novel in which geeks save the world?  Armada may not take off like that of its predecessor, but the underlying message is far more profound and lasting.   With high YA/adult crossover appeal, Armada is certain to gain Cline a whole new wave of fandom.