Sunday, May 1, 2016

Armada Book Review

Rawr Reader,

Libraries are magical, magical places. You can get a card for free and then borrow a ton of books not only from the physical building but from its online server. And the best part is there's a ton of books I want to read on there, many contemporary and recent releases. I only wish I took advantage of my library in the county where I attended college because their selection was so vast! Oh well, live and learn! Once I saw Ernest Cline's Armada, the novel following the action-packed, sci-fi, mystery Ready Player One, I knew it was going to be one of my first borrowed titles. So let's just jump right into it! 
I forewarn you, unlike most of my reviews, this review contains spoilers.
The synopsis is provided by Goodreads:

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. 

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

  When I knew about Cline having another novel, I knew I was going to check it out.

(not safe for those who haven't read this book yet, so will contain spoilers)
  Where oh where do I begin? While I consider myself a sci-fi fan, I haven't read most of the genre's top books like: War of the Worlds, Ender's Game, The Time Machine, Brave New World, Dune, etc. Now, while the pop culture references of the 70s and 80s might have been unchartable waters for me in Ready Player One, it was bearable and it didn't extract the thrill and joy our main character felt in his adventure. And for us, the readers who tagged along in the wild ride. In Armada, this was not the case. There were so many reference spat at me on nearly every page, I couldn't help but skim over these parts. For this reason and all the reasons I'll entail in the rest of the review.
    The beginning of the story has a great starting suspenseful scene with a flying saucer outside of his classroom window, and yet drags for fifty pages while he recounts his life story and monotonous daily life and routine.
    I think what makes stories enjoyable or not comes down to a fundamental question: is the story original or not. Now, before an avalanche of screams come down on me about how inspiration and themes and characters stem from a multitude of sources and nothing is truly original, I'd like to say that stories don't have to be entirely original to be enjoyable. Oxymoron isn't it? I'm contradicting myself. Well, not entirely. You see, She's the Man (not a book but a highly entertaining movie) is a rendition of the Shakespearean play Twelfth Night, and I find it a very enjoyable movie to watch. Most of the characters and places share names with the original play and yet, it's different. It's set in contemporary America where a girl wants to prove her talent and skill for a sport that is dominantly male-driven, as well as male-respected. The reason why She's the Man was successful and Armada failed was due to literature's most criticized device: cliché. Constantly as I was reading through Armada I became bombarded with one after the other and when nearing the next one I physically wanted to throw my iPad across the porch to get as far away from the novel as I could.* It wasn't even clichés that were discreetly written in. It was a son who absolutely devoted after his father and created a shrine for him after his death. It was said son who idolized him all his life, then within a span of ten pages of meeting him was sad/ ecstatic/ mad/ critical/ guilty/ sad again. One of the times I knew for a fact I couldn't connect with Zack, our Mary Sue golden boy, was when he blatantly blames his father for dying in an "embarrassing" way and because of that, made his life a living hell. Like, I'm sorry, I thought you were your own person. I would understand if you hated the man--- but this boy literally created a shrine for his dad in his room and watched all his dad's favorite movies and books and games. In fact, this boy didn't have a unique thing about him because, like the creme clichés between father and sons, Zack just looked like his father. Oh, and he just happened to be the son of the highly ranked commander of a secret organization. So, he had all the interests and talents of his father down and looked just like him--- so what really made Zack different from his father? What made him a different cliché from every cliché-written hormonal teen boy I always read about? I want to say I'm still thinking about it, but I have already moved on this story and am only recounting the story for this review.
    In fact, I couldn't connect with any of the characters. How could I not connect with any of the variety of characters in this 300+ page novel? Well, one thing was for over-use of humor in every page. Even in the critical moments, there was always a snarky, smart-ass remark made by one character--- as every character seemed to have the same demeanor as our protagonist. It was like the forced laughter you hear in sit-coms when the show's editors want the TV viewers to laugh. Except--- even sit-coms know when in moments of tension and severity, humor doesn't need to be implemented. Like the world is potentially coming to its end and these immature teenagers and even adults (dear Lord even the adults on the moon) are just making jokes. I understand humor is done to maintain sanity in an environment that is locked-in and separate from society, however-- it's the END OF THE WORLD and they're just cracking jokes. It was overdone and I couldn't stand it. I could barely read it in m head, let alone aloud. I can't imagine listening to the audio version of this. Dialogue ties into humor so I'll just add it in this section. Most of the dialogue exchanges felt fabricated and unrealistic. No teenage boy would just say thanks to his friends for helping his house not be destroyed. Or just kiss their mom on the cheek before going to bed on an average night. Or call their mom incredibly hot. I mock-barfed when I read that.
  Also, the romance in this story was flat and unneeded. Why couldn't he just have made a friend--- why did this hot girl happen to like him back and kiss him twice within a day and send him a text message "Will call U ASAP. <3". Just, why? They had like three physical interactions, probably not even that many. Okay, maybe I'll buy that he's really into her, but why should she be into him? He's just a teenager who just spends all his days playing video games. What about him made him attractive to her? She never even mentioned it. No, she's just magically interested in him too.

   Most depressingly, this novel embodied the mantra every fiction or English teacher I've ever had teaches: show, don't tell. If it wasn't in the exposition, it was in the dialogue. There was a scene near the end where Zack calls his dad after his parents ignored their call and when he finally connects through, the first described is how his parents didn't answer the call because they were "too busy boning each other." Really--- two people still clearly in love with each other (as shown many times in the novel) are finally together again and you don't think they might do it. Considering the eminent end of the world? And don't get me started on the fact this man was knocked unconscious--- then came to and was a little delusional, is already sane enough to do it with his still legally-fluid wife, and then command an attack against an alien force---- ALL within hours of each other? There's science fiction--- and then there's fantasy where the unrealistic cannot pass as believable. Except, even fantasy and magical realism has rules. I mean, how young is his demographic that he needs to explain everything. Give the reader some credit.
   One of my last complaints was the action. Action, in theory, is meant to expedite the pace of the story however for me it was the contrary. It was pages of action and I mostly skimmed over. Like, I didn't really have a good grasp of place and so was lost, not that I wasn't already lost with the jargon of the gaming world. So many names. It was easy to follow in Ready Player One, but in Armada it was incredibly confusing. 
   And the Zack did not fit the typical teenage boy. Not stereotypical, typical boy. He's throwing expletives left and right, he has a job, ooo he even did it with a girl once, he's attracted to this hot girl he just met who has tattoos and tight-fitting clothing and drinks and is cheeky and---dare I say it--- cliché, however he plays and encompasses his life to playing games, he kisses his mom on an average night, he gets into fights at school (to be the hero for a kid who doesn't even make eye contact with him), throws temper tantrums, he scolds his boss for being unprofessional at a video game store and yet disobeys direct orders from a trained and professional (though virtual) soldier, and then dismisses being #6 in an incredibly popular and challenging game being all humble and everything. Why can't he be arrogant about being a good player? Why can't he be emotionally stable and reasonable with his father he just learned was still alive? And what about the end when he comes across the machine that gave the world this test? He actually considers declining an offer to fix starvation and cure medical mysteries. WHAT! I understand he's down because he lost his father--- but even though you idolized him all your life--- you literally had no memory of him except for within the last 24 hours. How about letting go of a person you never knew and think about the big picture and for humanity and how actual problems could be solved. Or was fighting for humanity really just all for show and to become the golden boy hero we all know and love, to stray from his dull, pathetically uninteresting and unmotivated every day lifestyle--- oh so conveniently from America. I can get into diversity, but then I'd have to get into politics and military tactics from different countries and where were they in all of this, but that's just another discussion for another book that actually deserves my time.
    I need to find an ending for my rant, and where best to end than with the end? All of the training and decades of imminent threats from alien armies culminates to the climactic---it was just a machine and it was all a test. A test to see if your species was violent or not--- all based off the sci-fi movies and tv shows your species enjoys for entertainment. And it lays all the pressure and potential for the race in one boy. One emotionally unstable one at that. I mean come on! What about the species' languages and cultures and science and food and geography and animals and weather? In the end, the machine ambiguously whisks away into space with the ominous "we'll contact you when you're ready." 
    Is this really written by the same author of one of my favorite adventure books, Ready Player One? I fear if I reread it, I'll discover all the problems I see in this book. (No, I don't want to think like that!) 
   As I said in the beginning, bless libraries where books are free to read and I never accidentally wasted money buying it. Now go visit your local library and score one of those awesome free library cards! *Cue Arthur's Library Card song*

Unshockingly, I give this book 1/5 stars.

“I’d spent my entire life overdosing on uncut escapism, willingly allowing fantasy to become my reality.” 
― Ernest Cline, Armada

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

*(No tablets were hurt in the making of this review.)

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