Armada – Ernest Cline

Long-time readers of Ephemeral Pursuits may recall Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One that I reviewed a few years back. I’m happy to report back that I’ve got his follow-up effort, Armada in my grubby little paws. There’s always a fear that a first-time novelist won’t have a strong follow-up effort (or even an effort in the first place). With as much pop-culture zeitgeist stuffed into Ready Player One as there was, I wasn’t sure that Cline would be up to a repeat performance. Fortunately Cline delivers the goods, albeit even more esoteric this time around.

Armada is another cultural tapestry with space being the focal point. Cline is obviously from the “Space Shuttle” generation, whose members were aware and obsessed with things doing with space. After all, that era was solidly in his wheelhouse as an adolescent. Esoteric and obscure references are commonly made throughout Armada as was the case with Ready Player One. I wasn’t able to catch all of the allusions or direct references made, but still managed to understand most of them.

The protagonist for Armada is a teenager high school student, Zack Lightman who spends his leisure time obsessively playing a space-based strategic video game. Eventually the video game becomes reality. Of course, this is a not-so veiled reference to WarGames (1985) as David Lightman was Matthew Broderick’s character’s name. Other ’80s and ’90s references pepper the book throughout.

It’s not going too far to invoke The Last Starfighter (1984), especially considering that it’s mentioned directly in the novel several times. Armada is definitely inspired by that film among other cultural touchstones. In short, it’s a more than adequate follow-up to his scintillating debut novel. Cline definitely falls just a little bit short, but his initial effort was always going to be very hard to follow up. I can’t wait to see what kind of mash-up story Cline has planned next, but he may be rapidly exhausting the pop culture stores from the 1980s that anybody could reasonably invoke within literature.

While a bit more narrow in its usage of pop culture, fans of Cline won’t be disappointed much. In fact, some might even prefer his sophmore effort, especially if they’re more in tune with the narrower swathe of pop culture (especially the references to space themed items). If you had a poster of the Space Shuttle in your bedroom, you’re likely to be more of a fan of Armada. If you wonder what I’m talking about, just viewing Aaron Draplin’s poster of the Space Shuttle is enough to make a ’80s kid reminisce about looking up into the sky and imagining happening to them what happens to Zack Lightman in the novel. Maybe your bedroom even looks like the one in ABC’s television series, The Goldbergs:

In any case, the book design is just as lovely for Armada as it was for Ready Player One. The dust jacket’s interior turns out to be blueprints and schematics for the spaceships involved in the novel. There’s also silver foil stamping on the paper boards (and embossing on the dustjacket as well, which are all really nice touches):

Here’s the spine:

Even the simple chapter graphics are on point:

The edition that I reviewed was the first edition hardcover.

Grade: B+

Edition: Crown (July 14, 2015) – 1st ed.
ISBN: 978-0804137256
Binding: Hardcover with dust jacket
Page Count: 368
Paper Quality: Matte (mostly opaque), trimmed (great)
Original Language: English
Other Notes: Also available in a Kindle edition and Audio CD.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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