The Premise: Zach Lightman is a gaming geek who, one day during class, spots a UFO through the classroom window. Not just any UFO either: a spacecraft from Armada, the computer game he is obsessed with. Because guess what? It wasn’t ever a game: it was a secret training programme for interplanetary warfare.
Thoughts: I loved Cline’s previous novel, Ready Player One, but had been warned by my husband, who had read both novels, that Armada wouldn’t be my kind of thing. I really hate it when he’s right.
The thing is that, while Armada has a brilliant premise, the first 150 pages are way too bogged down in very specific descriptions of gaming, and that just isn’t my thing. I played a lot of Toejam and Earl on the Megadrive in the 90s; I’ve also been known to cause myself nerve damage by playing Guitar Hero for several hours at a time. But immersive descriptions of galactic shooting battles don’t really do it for me, so big chunks of Armada were pretty hard work. The other geeky stuff was cool; I’m a mid-level Star Wars nerd and there are obvious Skywalker parallels in the family relationships, which provide some much-needed emotional thrust to the narrative, and I enjoyed the references to the cheesy 80s rock mixtapes Zach inherited from his father. There just wasn’t enough of this human content in amongst all the starfleets and weaponry to keep me interested.
In Conclusion: while no match for Ready Player One, which I found genuinely thrilling to read, Armada does show flashes of the same zingy flair from Cline. Given that computer games form the whole backdrop to the narrative, it was probably rather naive of me to think there’d be more human drama to the story, and I would expect Armada to be more popular with readers whose tastes run a little closer to the protagonist’s.