4 stars. Ernest Cline’s Armada is probably a 3 star book when it comes to plot and characterization and a 5 star book for entertainment value and understanding of geek culture, so I met in the middle. The plot itself is heavily derivative of Ender’s Game and The Last Starfighter, giving frequent homage to its roots. The storyline is that two wildly popular MMORPGs were developed as a training tool to defend Earth from a coming alien invasion. Our hero, Zack Lightspeed, is the sixth best player in the world on the ship-to-ship combat game. His father, also a gamer geek, died when he was an infant, leaving behind wild conspiracy theory notes about the gaming industry’s connections to the military.
Then Zack sees an alien craft right out of his game zipping around his school, and discovers that his father might have been on the right track. What follows is a fun page turner of thrilling space combat, shocking revelations, and frenetic action, with a few larger questions looming beneath the surface. The plot is pretty predictable; nothing will keep an astute reader guessing here. Cline’s prose is very direct and compulsively readable, making for an entertaining page-turner.
Sadly, Armada doesn’t really connect beyond just a thrilling plot the way Ready Player One did, so it doesn’t rise much above a framework for vicarious geek thrills and pop culture references as Ready Player One did. Worthwhile for the escapism value.