Ready, Player Two? Ernest Cline’s Armada and how it measures up

Armada - Ernest ClineErnest Cline’s hit 2011 debut Ready Player One was the pure, unfettered brainscream of a child of the 80s,” as American writer and Juno chief executive Charles Ardai memorably put it.


For the uninitiated (where have you BEEN?) the novel wove a veritable treasure trove of 80s movie, gamer and pop-cultural references into an engaging post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel relying heavily on these references for its plot development – a novel at once more exciting, more significant in style and more original in conception than the description I just gave could possibly convey.

In short, it created waves of excitement in every 80s-raised-or-remembering person, one of whom I am proud to be (I was born the same year as The Goonies, yo). It excited the rest of the world too, enough for Steven Spielberg lay claim to directing the movie version, now due in 2017.

So obviously, no pressure on that second novel to succeed, Cline.

Enter Zack Lightman, an 18-year-old gamer who lives with his mom in Oregon. His father died in an explosion at 19, when Zack was just a baby, and the young doppelganger lives in a virtual shrine to the memory of his dad, who bequeathed his obsession with (yes…) 80s movies and games to his son by way of a collection of possessions in the attic of the home Zack and his mother now share with just the ageing beagle, Muffitt.

Zack, a dreamer already dealing with some anger issues and worried about his own grip on reality after spending too much time living in the world of his father’s games, notes and conspiracy theory-filled journals, thinks he must finally have lost the plot when one day he sees a ship from global hit game Armada circling the skies outside his classroom window.

But it soon becomes clear that these is a lot more at stake here than one teenager’s sanity, and this is maybe the first time in history that being a really, really good gamer can be called a life skill – a skill crucial to the future of the human race.

Despite my clearly being a member of the target audience, my kinship with the subject matter here ends abruptly at the word ‘gaming’. Thankfully, my long association with nerds has given me the vocabulary to cope, and even if you don’t care about the 80s or gaming, if you have any interest in the nature of modern sci-fi writing, I’d encourage you to give this a try.

Like its predecessor Ready Player One, Armada features the same endearingly enthusiastic tone, like your best friend chewing your ear off about their latest obsession. A nerd’s wet dream, it’s sharp and humorous, giving the reader an almost immodestly fun ride. It really sounds as though Cline had a ball writing this, particularly some of the wise-cracking dialogue, and that kind of enjoyment is contagious.

The writing is not amazing or life-changing. It’s not full of stirring descriptions or memorable quotes. Several times I am jarred slightly by a choice of adjective or simile. But it doesn’t need to be poetry. The language is entirely functional and the sheer momentum of this story needs no help. The pictures Cline paints are clear as daylight and lent soul by the central theme of Zack’s utter devotion to the idea of his father.

Funnily enough, I remember thinking as I read this that it read a bit like the novelisation of a movie, or indeed the script for one. Cline’s books are both very cinematic stuff, so it surprises me not one whit that Spielberg is all over this.

The author has written a confident and worthy successor to Ready Player One and confirmed his place as a truly original and exciting new voice in sci-fi.

They’ll both undoubtedly make kickarse movies, so keep your ear to the ground (or your eyes on the skies).

Want more sci-fi book reviews? 

Ursula le Guin, The Dispossessed
William Kotzwinkle, The Amphora Project
M. John Harrison, Light
John Wyndham, The Outward Urge




























































All That I Am (Anna Funder, 2011)

I need to read a book about Nazi Germany like I need a hole in the head: my thoughts when I hear the latest book club title.

But I warm to it immediately as it opens with a trio of quotes, including a much-loved Nick Cave lyric:

Outside my window, the world has gone to war / are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?

Toller and Ruth alternate to tell of their group of friends’ story in the years leading up to World War II, as to the world outside Germany.

When Hitler assumes power, Ruth is in the bath. Her husband is mixing a mojito with his new lime-squasher. But as Hitler’s deadly intentions towards those who do not share his beliefs become quickly clear, the group take refuge in London.

Toller speaks in his London hotel room in 1939, as war begins, and Ruth from where she is living out the end of her days in modern Sydney.

They remember Dora, Toller’s lover and Ruth’s cousin. As Ruth’s strength and short-term memory decline, memories crowd in.

She and Toller reconstruct Dora, always driving action from the background – an anonymous correspondent, a translator, an information smuggler. Rarely is she the centre of attention.  Yet she is in the forefront always for Toller and Ruth.

It is the ones we love we remember most. We have grown to be who we are around them, as around a stake. And when the stake is gone?

I have never been a reader of non-fiction, but when I look back over this blog I see a newfound love of almost-true stories.

These tales have in common their gripping narratives, and this is no different; there is not a dull page.

There is the building sense of dread that comes with any account of Hitler’s misdeeds, so evil they are even now almost unbelievable – just as the British, harbouring the refugees, found them.

But it’s not this alone that compels. Ruth’s story is told at first in snatches, but becomes increasingly intense as she withdraws first to a hospital bed and then to her own mind, interrupted only by visits from doctors and her cleaner.

She pushes aside the curtain with a swoosh and there she is, a huffing, and puffing reminder of my other life, the outside one with biscuits and banter and sunshine walks.  

Ruth succumbs to this. The story is more real now to her, twisting and racing.

They have added something to the drip. It is collapsing time. I see things I have imagined so many times they are fact to me. And other things I have known without seeing.

The problem with life is that you can only live it blindly, in one direction. Memory has its own ideas; it snatches elements of story from whenever, tries to put them together. It comes back at you from all angles, with all that you later knew, and gives you the news.

Though it is a story of war, above all it is a story of people and of love, as the best histories always are.

We were the two for whom she was the sun. We moved in her orbit and the force of her kept us going.

One point: I don’t like its title or its cover. As one book club member suggested, it seems much like something a publisher would recommend Funder call it to attract the ladies’ market. I can’t really see the relevance of the title.

But the wishy-washy title and cover belie the book’s deadly seriousness, finesse and the author’s remarkable analytic and storytelling skill.

It is not for the faint of heart, but to those who want a story to make their pulse pound and their heart ache: this will not disappoint.

Turbo Blog

  • The Sending: The Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 6 (Isobelle Carmody, 2011)

I might have to read this again from the beginning before the last and final book in the Obernewtyn series comes out. I just dont think I can wait long enough for my appetite for this series to be sated. I think I got the first book in the series nearly 20 years ago, and it speaks volumes about the quality of the writing and the plots that I enjoy it as much, if not more, now.
Of course the books have gotten bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and could now double as weapons, or crook-stoppers, as the Ministry calls them.
I confidently predict that even those who don’t get into fantasy would love this epic post-apocalyptic series.

  •  Gabriel Iglesias’ Stand-Up Revolution (Astor Theatre, October 14, 2012)

Phwoar. This guy is not the world’s most You-Tubed comedian for nothing. If you do nothing else today, Google Fluffy and be prepared to laugh your ass off.
This show was more like a rock concert than a stand-up gig – Fluffy’s support acts were awesome, and then the main act, the lovably obese Latino himself, ran nearly an hour over. He ended up talking until his on-stage “reminder” clock ran out at 99 minutes, at which point he giggled and happily pulled its plug out.
Then, and only then, did he stop with the brand-new material and obligingly do all the fans’ most beloved routines, which they deafeningly requested then nearly sang along with everypunchline.
It was a powerful, positive, bizarrely touching event to be a part of, and I laughed until I nearly passed out.

  • Dark Shadow (2012)

Tim Burton’s latest (I think) offering would surely be a deep disappointment to any fan of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas. Noticeably lacking the dark, disturbing quality of his earlier work (even his relatively recent work, like Willy Wonka), the movie is stylish but shallow.
It’s not stylish enough to be watchable purely as eye candy, and it’s too shallow to be enjoyed even as B-grade fluff. Johnny Depp is peculiarly lacklustre, and even his visual gags about being an ancient vampire struggling to understand a modern-day society are barely enough to raise a snicker.
The villain is so two-dimensional and lazily thought-out she is ridiculous, without any feelings or motivations except a deeply irrational desire to be loved despite being a murderous witch.
Only bother watching this if you are so hungover you can’t get off the couch and change it to something else.