The only downside to writing an amazing debut is that, come the next book, fans of the first will have high expectations. Readers will think it will be just like the debut, but even better, only to be disappointed when it is not. Fans of Ready Player One may open Ernest Cline’s next novel Armada and experience this feeling of disappointment. While Armada does express Cline’s impressive style of writing and storytelling talent, this story does not impress as much as his debut did.
The young Zack Lightman has devoured every book, movie, and video game that revolves around science fiction. Like every other boy his age, Zack dreams of the fictional worlds he engrosses himself within becoming a reality, though he knows that those dreams will never happen. So why does he see an alien spaceship from the Armada online game he plays flying in the sky outside of his school? It turns out Armada was not just a game, but rather a training simulator training millions of gamers to become pilots to fight against an alien army heading towards Earth to destroy it. Zack is finally given the chance to be a hero, but will the reality of the impending war keep him from fighting to save his world?
Cline’s storytelling has carried over from his debut to his next novel and begins Armada how everyone who considers himself or herself a nerd dreams about: what a boy thought was fiction is now fact and he is chosen to be a part of this new reality. However, it is no longer fantasy and the knowledge that he could actually be killed trying to protect the planet from a real impending doom really puts a damper on the exhilarating mood he used to feel while engrossing himself in that fiction.
The elements that have changed between Cline’s stories are that Armada is more science fiction based rather than focusing on all different types and genres of popular culture while also being more video game based rather than a virtual reality world. Perhaps it is the fact that Cline just focuses on science fiction in Armada that it may not reach out to as large of an audience as Ready Player One did, but it still covers a wide variety of popular science fiction. Many popular science fiction books, movies, TV shows, and games are mentioned and even the years they were created or released, which provides excellent references for readers who may wish to look into some of these science fiction worlds. Some of Cline’s references include Star Wars, Star Trek, E.T., Ender’s Game, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Men in Black, Star Raiders for the Atari 400/800, and many more.
There is a book Cline refers to that his own story actually sounds very similar to: Ender’s Game. The similar elements of training younger people through simulations to battle an alien invasion makes the plot a bit predictable for a good portion of the story. It is rather intriguing, however, to realize, that upon completion of Armada, the whole story happens within almost the span of a day. Another intriguing and surprising element is Armada’s ending. It reveals an excellent plot twist readers may not see coming and it hints at an obvious sequel. Though, if Cline were to leave this story as a standalone novel, it will leave much to the readers’ imagination.
With very familiar and, at times, predictable elements of science fiction storytelling and scenes that have a tendency to drag in description, Armada may not reach out to as broad of an audience as its predecessor. However, due to the success of Ready Player One, it is unfair to compare Cline’s latest novel to it. Readers with the expectations of Armada being a continuation off of Ready Player One will, more than likely, be disappointed. But as a standalone science fiction, readers will still be able to experience Cline’s captivating writing style and skillful storytelling in a world where fiction becomes fact and dreams become reality.