A review of Ernest Cline's new book.

I was ecstatic when I closed my Kindle app after finishing Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The book was fantastic. In addition to the infusion of ’80s culture and video game references, the story had been unique and exciting. I cared about the characters and what they were going through. You’ll get no further details on that book right now, however, because I believe you should go read it, soon.  That is, unless you happened to go through the ’80s in a convent or were born late enough to consider Dora the Explorer a nostalgic part of your youth.

I was euphoric when Cline’s second book Armada was announced. Round two, FIGHT.

And then I read it.

note: this review will be spoiler-free, don’t worry

Early on in the book I was enamored with yet more 80s tie-ins and references. The story was, in an egregious oversimplification, a combination of The Last Starfighter and Ender’s Game. In fact, this book was comically tailored for my personality. Nearly every aspect of it pointed to some movie, book, or game that I had watched, read or played extensively as a kid. Cline even struck gold with me by giving the main character a nickname directly from one of my favorite 80s movies. It seemed providential that I was reading this story. I started noticing a few issues but gladly overlooked them because I was being bombarded with nostalgia.

Some of the plot seemed a bit rushed, but again I was willing to overlook these things. Then I noticed the dialog was a bit rough. Characters were saying things I didn’t think seemed natural. No problem. Then I realized that the characters all sort of shared the same personality. Even the Japanese kid who introduced himself with a bow and a “konichiwa” immediately turned into a clone of the main character, who I can only presume is a clone of Ernie Cline.

Halfway through the book I was still totally enjoying it. I referred it to friends and was excited to start the third act to see where this was all heading. I had become slightly cautious, though, and began having trouble ignoring the faults. I actually had trouble keeping characters straight because they were so similarly written and more-than-occasionally they would act completely contrary to the one unique personality-trait they had.

There came a point about three quarters of the way through the book where I sighed and put the book down because of a glaring problem with the timeline of the story. It wasn’t subjective either, it was a very-obviously-wrong way to explain what was going on. As I came up to the end of the book, the climax started to feel rushed. Maybe I was just being hypersensitive by this point but it seemed like Cline was on a deadline to finish as fast as possible and didn’t spend more than a few sentences on some major plot points.

Here’s the thing, Ernest Cline still has my respect. He’s not a bad writer and the ideas behind his books are exciting. I loved Ready Player One, and Armada still had a rich story arc and interesting character ideas. The shortcoming seems to have come when Cline would (or should) have been doing rewrites. I’m not sure if he was on a time crunch or if his editors completely ignored him but the result is disappointing.  Tragic, if you consider the potential that Armada had to become a staple of sci-fi. I was apparently not the only person who felt this way.

Despite all of this, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the book. The story borrowed themes and ideas from a collection of my favorite works and was honestly written in a style where grandiose, possibly-unrealistic storytelling is totally ok because it has spaceships, lasers, and mechs engaged in epic battle. It was exciting and fast-paced. It was even emotional at times.

I’d recommend this book under a few caveats. If you are in the target demographic, it’s absolutely a good read. If you’re hyper-critical of writing, maybe try to turn down your criticism and just go along for the ride.

Maybe this one needs a movie adaptation too. And a rewrite.

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