CBR #114 – Set Phasers to Nostalgia

Armada by Ernest Cline

I am a tremendous fan of Ready Player One.  It seems to me a perfect assortment of this kind of Willy Wonka meets Wargames and the layering of 80’s references is terrific.  It’s a great throwback, plumped full of easter eggs and still with a riveting story.  So when Cline decided to take on space invaders, I was totally in.  I love The Last Starfighter, Ender’s Game, and to some extent he crams in Iron Eagle.  Anything that makes you care more about Jason Gedrick is alright by me.

But this one’s a little too.  I don’t know.  It’s a little too everything.  The premise is there, but in this one, it feels like it’s like some sort of referential fois gras.  There is SO MUCH packed into this one.  It’s like someone called out Cline after Ready Player One, and his reaction was, oh, you thought that was too much, I will FEED YOU 8-BIT UNTIL YOU DIE.

There’s probably an element of truth to the government bolstering the video game industry to train the youth to operate war machines.  If you told me Cline discovered this from a hacker friend, I would full on fucking believe you.  Every meal at Fuddrucker’s tells the horrible truth of consuming America’s Army.  I’m sure Doom level-hacker issued in a new gen of kids who could take killing to the next level. Now that we’ve got drones and our robotics are getting more improved, we creep ever closer to a Nintend-of-the-world scenario.

But the story here isn’t that strong.  It just feels very boilerplate.  Obviously, Cline is referencing the whole golden child finding glory in video games.  But he stays so close and obsessive.  It’s almost an overload.  And you can’t patch a weak story with nerdstalgia.  I’ve tried.  It’s not a bad book, but it’s a little underwhelming compared to Ready Player One.  Though honestly, that’s a hell of an act for anyone to follow.  I’ll definitely still be eager for the next Cline book, but if this trend is the case, it might just be too much of a good thing.

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