Armada by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My reactions to this book were like a roller coaster.
I start off with a good and heavy dose of nostalgia, which is fine, but when the Zack starts down the long twisty road of father issues, I follow him down for a good long time without much worries. When it goes down the rabbit hole, then I started going, "Eh?" Do kids anywhere go as far to setting up a veritable shrine to all the things that dear departed dad used to be heavy into?
So I take a step back, put on my suspenders of rebriefing, and enjoy the nostalgia without worrying too much about Zack's insanity quotient. Everything is good again.
Honestly, I was a little worried that I'd be disappointed with a novel blatantly riffing off The Last Starfighter, but I shouldn't have worried. Mr. Cline expands and makes the whole universe his own, with updated tech, MMOs, and tons of righteous personality. I'm into it. And I'm even more into it when the war starts, Zack fucks up, and Zack saves the day, picking up a girlfriend along the way that's much smarter than he is, and they're both happy that it's so. Love during wartime. No messy relationship conflict necessary. It was refreshing, and all the conversations are light, bordering on snarky. It's just that kind of novel.
I'm still well on-board.
Then daddy issues get complicated, showing us a brand new depth that hero worship can send a kid if he has a usb key with almost two decades of letters from papa. I groaned. Zack doesn't decide to pass on them for a more fortunate time. He obsesses. I start losing it, again.
Not to worry, though, the war is still going strong and all things and all manner of things are well... until my cart takes a super deep dive into magical happy ending land. Don't get me wrong. I love my happy endings. But I love them more when they're not had at the expense of credulity. I mean, sure, we have plenty of cues throughout, from the official backstory of the MMO game sets, the complaints everyone seems to have about "reasons" for aliens invading Earth, IE., "Why? Why bother?", etc., but in the end, we do get an answer, and the answer isn't quite the mind blowing one I was rather expecting.
It brought me down. Sure, the massive dead count does count for a happy ending, but it's the "reason" that really disappoints. It's fine for those people who like a good meta. I enjoyed the reason for the meta that it is. I just don't think it belonged in this otherwise fast and easy and engaging read that made me feel giddy and good and excited. I felt like I was in the middle of the action and I was enjoying myself a great deal, after all.
If the novel didn't have the likeable characters, the sharp dialog, or the engaging story, I'd have easily given this a two star rating rather than a four. If we hadn't gone so repetitively into the daddy issues, while retaining the meta, I'd probably have given this book a five. Meta isn't a big problem. It just marred what I considered a very very close shot to being an utterly breakaway awesome novel that would deserve to be on the bestseller list for 40 weeks and be loved by as many people who loved Ready Player One.
I'm just saying.
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