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“Armada” by Ernest Cline | Parent and Teen Review and Recommend

PARENT REVIEW | by Sarah Pinneo

In the first scene of Armada by Ernest Cline, the teenage protagonist looks out the window at school and sees a spaceship fly past. As if that weren’t crazy enough, he recognizes the ship from a video game he plays daily with his friends.

The premise is straight out of any teen’s daydream. Then the plot gets more exciting. The next spacecraft to buzz the high school has come for him. And there are those odd journals in the attic in which his deceased father spun a conspiracy theory that never seemed possible until now…

Ernest Cline is that rare author whose dystopian sci-fi has crossed over to audiences who don’t usually read sci-fi. The author succeeds because his two hits—Armada and Ready Player One—both function on two levels. Fans of any age will enjoy the plot-driven stories. But the settings are also drenched in 1980’s culture. You can read them either for the thrills, or for the nostalgia of happening upon a reference to a video game you played at Pizza Hut in 1984.

In other words, Armada may have been designed in a laboratory to become the perfect parent-child read, artfully spanning the generation gap. Since video games—and our kids’ overreliance on them for entertainment and social interaction—are often discussed at home, why not share this uplifting adventure tale of video games gone wild?

Armada doesn’t merely worship video games, it has a lot to say about the current state of the world. Touching on themes of family, loyalty, trust, and secrets, the book is at its best when covering that most unfortunate human impulse: violence. Before the book is over, our young hero will have to convince his elders that only through selflessness and the mitigation of violence can civilization survive. And when the hard-won happy ending eventually comes, it is not without great sacrifice.

It’s the best possible message for a book which celebrates video games. Short of asking its reader fans to put down the controller and actually go outside, of course.

Sarah Pinneo is a novelist and food writer in Hanover New Hampshire.

TEEN REVIEW | by Jackson Lake

I enjoyed Ernest Cline’s Armada for a number of reasons. First of all, everyone can relate to the main character. Zach Lightman, is simply a regular teenager who enjoys playing video games and likes talking about movies and comics with his friends, Cruz and Diehl.

Zach is not particularly intelligent or sociable. He doesn’t have some sort of special ability, and his only talent is that he’s incredibly good at video games. If you like science fiction movies or video games you will enjoy this book. Cline mentions Star Wars, Star Trek, Space Invaders another movie and video games from the 80’s.

But whether you like sci-fi or not, this book has a great plot. The story draws you in as Zach reads from his deceased father’s notebook. In the notebook, Zach finds his father’s conspiracy theory and evidence of the government’s long-term plan to use video games to train the citizens of planet Earth against an oncoming alien invasion.

That plotline flourishes into a thrilling adventure with gripping twists. Also, the manner in which the story is told is often quite hilarious. The humor is a great addition to the surprise-laden science fiction plot.

Throughout the book, Zach must overcome problems of his own. He has anger management issues, and school is often a challenge for him. He wishes that his life were more like the fantasy and sci-fi movies he watches. Cline does a great job portraying how Zach deals with his problems and showing Zach’s emotions as his life dramatically changes.

Although Cline uses the common plotline of an alien invasion, he turns it into a different and more interesting story. Zach, who has already seen and read classic alien invasion movies and novels such as Ender’s Game, believes that his experience with an alien invasion will be similar. I found it interesting to see how Cline depicts an alien invasion differently from other books. That, and to watch how Zach handles a real alien invasion.

Armada was a very worthwhile read. I enjoyed everything from the characters in the story to the incredibly entertaining plotline. I suggest this book to everyone, whether you like sci-fi or not.

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Sarah Pinneo is a novelist and food writer in Hanover New Hampshire.

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