Gray Unicorn

Armada by Ernest Cline

In thinking about this post I thought of Steve Jobs at Apple WWDC in 1997 - I'm the relative nobody about to criticise the famous achiever. It is with great humility and disappointment that I say that I did not love Armada Ernie's latest book.

Ready Player One was incredible. I emailed friends about it and listened to the music and searched for the URL leading to the first gate. I liked it so much that I went and found a hardcover first edition, signed. It's on the shelf next to Patrick O'Brian and David Mitchell. Cline probably isn't quite as familiar with Homer, but for sheer enjoyment (and nostalgia) Ready Player One is right up there.

Armada isn't. I got through it in multiple short sessions on the train. But unlike RP1 I didn't sit down on the platform to finish chapters, I just closed it and went home. The barrage of cultural references I did not mind, they were expected - Lloyd, Lloyd all null and void is the only one I had to look up. I liked the book, I just felt flat about not liking it more.


So what's wrong with Armada? I always felt I knew what was going to happen. From the first mention of a missing father I expected him to turn up. Once he did turn up I expected him to nobly sacrifice himself for the cause. As soon as Last Starfighter was mentioned I knew the video game would become reality.

What was the point of the big buildup with "Zack Attack"? Was it background for Zack's disobeying the order to not follow the Glaive into the hangar? Also, what a very understanding Admiral he turned out to be.

Tethered drones, are you nuts? How would any kind of tether be expected to survive for any length of time in combat? The whole communications disruption mechanism was clumsy and this band-aid stuck out a mile.

And haven't we already been through this with OASIS? And Ender's Game? Even the lesson of War Games is in there - and it was telegraphed very early leaving the end to play out with nothing much left to say.

And everyone rocks out on the far side of the moon. Sorry but this is going too far. Cringeworthy in fact.


Apparently the questioner at WWDC 1997 was Robert Hamisch - did he manage to insult Jobs, or hand him one of the greatest opportunities ever? I'm sure Ernest Cline has noticed some criticism of Armada and will respond with another great book.

I won't say don't buy Armada, it isn't the worst thing I have read this year by far. It's a good book. It just isn't what you might hope for.

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