Reflections on Armada & Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
— From the pages of FLL#37
If you’re like me, you have spent perhaps too much of life’s free time (or rather, time that should have been spent on responsibilities) doing the very important work of playing video games (a.k.a. “saving the universe”) and binging on movies even before there was a Netflix. Honestly, I hope you’re not like me, for the sake of anyone depending on you to get stuff done.
At the young-ish age of 42 [at the time of this writing], I may only have inklings about The Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything… but thankfully I’m learning more daily (at least about fictional life) thanks largely in part to imaginative creators like Ernest Cline.
If you have any amount of geekblood running through your circuitry, or if you have friends that do, then you’ve likely heard of Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One. If not, watch for Steven Spielberg’s cinematic adaptation coming on March 30, 2018. Cline’s freshman effort is nothing short of epic, immersive, captivating, surprising, and wildly entertaining. Inspired largely by pop/tech/geek culture from 1980s games, movies, TV shows, and music, this book was a nostalgia trip to my childhood and early teen years. It somehow managed to mention pretty much everything I loved about that era, which is no small feat! Armada (Cline’s second novel) is similarly overflowing with pop culture references, such as a mix of 70s through 90s gaming and sci-fi lore, plus a dash of real scientific theory thrown in for good measure.
Ready Player One has been summarized as “Willy Wonka meets the Matrix.” The protagonist strives to win a global contest with high stakes inside a virtual reality social network/video game. Armada is said to be The Last Starfighter meets Ender’s Game, where an avid gamer discovers his favorite sci-fi video game is actually a training simulator for a real invasion. Those comparisons, while quite accurate, don’t sufficiently account for the depth of emotion, humor, relational tensions, and inventive integration of Cline’s myriad influences.
The two stories are unrelated as far as characters and plot, but are similar stylistically. If you like one, read the other—you won’t be disappointed. For those that savor an adventure-laden escape, even if you might not get all the references, it’s still totally worth the journey.