By Ernest Cline

106,053 ratings - 3.54* vote

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure. But hey, there’s Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless

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Book details

Hardcover, 355 pages
July 14th 2015 by Crown Publishing
Original Title
0804137250 (ISBN13: 9780804137256)
Edition Language

Community Reviews



Believe me when I say I was ready to love this book. Ready Player One was so great! And this was about video games and alien invasions! I jumped in to Armada ready to be caught by an awesome net..

.. and instead fell flat on my face. On concrete. And then a piano fell on me.

The equation as it stands:

+ Boring characters (I didn’t care about anyone! I didn’t feel we spent enough time with a single character for me to care about their fate and so when something happened to someone I just shrugged and kept reading)
+ an annoying main character (I hated him! i wasn’t rooting for him even a little bit! I would have liked literally any other character to be our hero/heroine)
+ deus ex machina ALL OVER THE PLACE (the plot kept running into situations that made Ernest Cline have to create silly and ridiculous ways out.. near the end I was just rolling my eyes “well of COURSE there was a simple 1-minute hack to solve that giant problem! -.-)
+ anti-climaxes left right and centre (just when you think something exciting is going to happen it’s like a deflating balloon and you’re left thinking “wait, was I supposed to think that was awesome?”)
+ an over saturation of pop culture references (listen, I get it. Ernest Cline loves showing off his knowledge of 80’s pop culture. Whereas in Ready Player One it felt a bit heavy, right here it basically sunk the ship. There were references being made where they didn’t add to the plot, where they didn’t fit into normal conversation or thought, and where they expected to explain something important that I therefore didn’t understand because I don’t know all of these obscure references!)
+ wasted potential (the big reveal at the end was actually interesting but I really felt it was a case of “too little too late”)
+ bad editing (I hate to be a stickler for grammar, but sometimes it crosses a line - throughout reading this i kept shaking my head and just thinking “did the editor give up? why is it so choppy?”)

I actually had a blast reading this .. because I read it aloud with my boyfriend. (Read his review here!) Every night we’d get together and read a chapter or two and it became a cringe fest that we laughed through together. If, however, I hadn’t been reading it with him I don’t even know if I would have finished it.

I’ve not given up on Ernest Cline - Ready Player One is a super fantastic and fun novel, and I feel like Ernest Cline is writing interesting sci-fi for our contemporary times, I just hope that whatever he does next is better plotted and not rushed <3

Sam Quixote

Teenager Zack Lightman is the 6th best Armada player in the world, a sci-fi shoot ‘em up where you pilot a ship blasting away alien invaders. And then he discovers the game was really designed to find the best pilots in the world and he’s been drafted in a real-life war against aliens!

Computer games used to find skilled players - kids, usually - to fight aliens in an intergalactic war? Yeah, it’s been done already in The Last Starfighter and Ender’s Game. In fact the derivative nature of Ernest Cline’s Armada is emblematic of the novel as a whole which isn’t so much a story as it is a collection of quotes and references from other, actually original works of pop culture sprinkled liberally atop an adolescent wish-fulfilment fantasy.

The story is told in Zack’s first person. By far the most irritating aspect of the novel is the way Cline writes Zack’s internal monologue – note that Zack is a mega-fan of pop culture. Every simile – and I mean. Every. Single. One. – is a reference to something. A movie, book, game, whatever.

For example: “I’d felt like a young Clark Kent, preparing to finally learn the truth about his origins from the holographic ghost of his own long-dead father.”


“What if they’re using videogames to train us to fight without us even knowing it? Like Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid, when he made Daniel-san paint his house, sand his deck, and wax all of his cars - he was training him and he didn’t even realize it! Wax on, wax off - but on a global scale!”

This isn’t just lazy, sloppy writing but it’s detrimental to how the book will read to some people. Not only do we not know what Zack is supposed to be feeling because he’s not telling us, he’s describing how another character in a similar situation would feel but only describing the situation. But if you’re unfamiliar with the reference, you won’t know what Zack/the reader is supposed to be feeling. Or you’ll have to jump on Google to find out yourself which isn’t exactly what anyone sitting down with a book is hoping to end up doing!

The simile references aren’t just every now and then, they’re on nearly every page which becomes enormously tiresome. Zack cannot describe anything, or have a single conversation, without name-dropping at least one pop culture reference. And while I got most of the references, I didn’t enjoy them so much as I grew to hate Cline’s shockingly inept storytelling style.

The story itself isn’t much better. Yes it’s ripping off The Last Starfighter and Ender’s Game but beyond that there isn’t much else to the book. The “gamers save the world” storyline is extremely self-indulgent and tedious, while the pervasive worship of nostalgia is simply boring.

But at least Zack has a semblance of character as opposed to no-one else in the book. His glaringly obvious love interest, Lex, isn’t so much a character as an extension of Cline’s fantasy. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and as steeped in pop culture as Zack so the two get to make repeated obnoxious references to one another in the least funny, most annoying meet cute ever. Not only that but she is hot hot hot for nerds, especially gamers who’re super-good at Armada. Lex might be Cline’s most pitiful moment in the whole novel.

Zack’s friends, Nerdle-dee and Nerdle-dum (I don’t recall their names but that’ll do), are just funnels for every fanboy message board, arguing about what superhero could beat some other superhero or what movie’s better than another. Describing these “characters” as one-dimensional is generous.

When he’s not making references, Cline’s describing the supposedly-exciting battle scenes in space between Earth’s forces and the aliens’. Except describing a space battle is not nearly as exciting as seeing one in a film, TV show or game and there are dozens of pages devoted solely to this. My eyes glazed over every time Cline was describing some super-awesome dogfight Zack was in.

But it isn’t just Cline’s inability to bring any real drama to the proceedings – just how exciting is it to see two drones fight one another? Because, for most of the fights, the people operating the machines are safely tucked far away from the action while two unmanned drones shoot at one another. Two lifeless robots shooting lasers at one another is as exciting to read as it sounds.

Things happen too quickly – one minute Zack’s a high school student making Lord of the Rings references with his Say Anything-obsessed mother in their living room, the next he’s in space preparing to fight a war that’ll save humanity. There’s no real build-up to the war against the aliens, no real sense of fear that this is “mankind’s final hour”. Everything’s too rushed to have any impact on the reader.

As unconvincing as the characters are, once these teens get drafted and are given titles like “Captain” and “Lieutenant”, it took all I could muster not to say “oh fuck YOU!” every time we saw some dweeb suddenly being saluted by self-appointed “Generals” and “Admirals”. It’s like watching little kids play dress-up or seeing a Scientology ceremony except you know they’re just idiots while Cline is asking us to take these teenage “Captains” seriously like everyone else in his story is for some stupid reason. It’s too much – I could suspend my disbelief for an alien invasion but not for some dickhead gamers being called actual military ranks and treated like actual ranking officers. There’s not enough vomit in the world to express how I felt during those scenes.

And really – we’re meant to believe that teenage gamers was the best strategy the brilliant minds of the world could come up with to fight the aliens? Socially dysfunctional, emotionally-damaged, undisciplined crybabies who’ve never know responsibility beyond a part-time job or an essay deadline are suddenly entrusted with billions of dollars’ worth of equipment to SAVE THE WORLD?! But then again we’re dealing with Ernest Cline’s fantasy specific to gamers so it makes (non)sense.

Armada is pure fan service to gamers. It pats them on the head, confirming their ridiculous beliefs that they are the most amazing people in the world and that nobody understands the true importance of gaming. The book is also for people who like seeing things they’re familiar with who’ll go “oh I remember that therefore this is great!” ie. mindless fanboys who only react to brands rather than substance and who enjoy feeling part of an asinine club because they “get” certain references others don’t.

The real failing of Armada is that for all Cline’s knowledge of pop culture, he’s unable to contribute anything original to it with his book. That’s the point isn’t it – to create something new and start a whole new set of references rather than simply quote endlessly from others ad nauseam? But Cline opts for the latter and produces a book of completely insubstantial drivel.

Armada is tedious sci-fluff that renders itself near-unreadable due to an over-reliance on cultural reference shorthand to communicate key moments of its feeble story and the savvy-ness of the reader to pick up on them. When picking what to read, shoot for something higher, something original, challenging, ambitious and fresh - in other words, anything but Armada!

Shelby *trains flying monkeys*

I like to think I'm sorta with it as an adult.

I read books that my teenagers like. I run from adult responsibilities. I love some pop culture stuff. I make fart jokes with my tweenish age son.
I'm totally on board with the cool stuff.

Until I met this book.
I absolutely and totally hate it. I know I should make myself finish it since I received a copy as an arc. I'm not doing it. You can't make me.

I loved Ready Player One so much that it is one of my favorites that I've read this year. This sucker is going on top of my most hated for the year.

You have this: My father had drawn circles around the entries for Iron Eagle, Ender's Game, and The Last Starfighter, then he'd added the lines connecting them all to each other-and now for the first time I finally understood why. All three stories were about a kid who trained for real-life combat by playing a videogame simulation of it.

And that boys and girls is the gist of this book.

Now that really does not sound like the worst book ever. But then you take and put in a pop culture reference in almost every frigging paragraph and it wears on your every loving last nerve in a frucking hurry.
Don't believe me? This is from the blurb-that I stupidly waited to read after I started the book.
Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you've ever read before-one whose every page in infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.


Not only do we have continuous pop culture forced down our throat at ever possible moment. You also must throw in every cliche known to young adult books on top of that. I did not finish this book but so far into it I saw the whole bullying storyline, single mom/dead dad, lonely boy who is going to be the hero, and insta-loving. As a matter of fact the insta-loving is when I said to hell with this book. I actually gritted my teeth it was so bad.

Then, as if that weren't lame enough, I added, "I'm not old enough to drink, anyway."
She rolled her eyes at me. "They're about to tell us that the world is ending, you realize?" she said. "You don't want to be stone-cold sober for that shit, do you?"
"You make a compelling argument," I said, taking the flask from her.
As I raised it to my lips, she began to chant, "Breakin'-the-law-breakin'-the-law."

I did get some stuff done while reading this book though. I cleaned my entire house, I even cleaned drama kitties litter box. It was way more fun than this book. And my ass is lazy.

Book source: Blogging for books in exchange for review.

Edward Lorn


Could we have a moment of silence for my love of pop culture references? Thank you.


E.'s Love of Pop Culture References - 1986-2015. R.I.P. (I was born in 1980, but I didn't truly flip my shit over something until the Howard the Duck movie came out in '86. I'm sure there will be several uber nerds who will claim that that's why I didn't "get" this novel, because I wasn't born wearing a Star Trek uniform.)

Ernest Cline is, quite simply, the Stephenie Meyers of science fiction. Horrible writer finds niche and milks it for everything it's worth because dollah, dollah bills, y'all! His next book will likely be a fantasy epic concerning a young wizard who flies around with a trio of dragons looking for a magical cube that can turn sex toys into shape-shifting robots. Young Wizard finds out his parents didn't actually die shortly after his birth; they traveled forward in time to join the Nazis. Young Wizard must team up with whimsical and witty man in a bow tie and a talking lion named Jesus in order to alter the course of Shia Labeouf's career. Am I close yet, Cline? Huh? Am I?

I will not spend the duration of this review explaining the extremity of my nerdom. I will not bore you with my likes and dislikes. I will say that I consider myself a nerd. That is the main reason I requested this book from Crown Publishing in return for an honest review. At this time, I would like to express my deepest condolences. I kinda feel like a serial killer apologizing to the parents of my victim, but you had to have known this was going to happen. I only assume that someone at your company read this book before accepting it for publication. Then again, maybe not. Let's be honest. You knew it would sell, and it will continue to sell long after this review is posted. Everyone LOVED Ready Player One, and WE the masses love supporting new favorite things. I know I will be tossed in the troll pile. I know I will be looked down upon by the Gods of Nerdom as some internet rage machine hellbent on funneling my derision into someone who's living the dream by stealing other people's dreams. Fuck everybody who thinks that. This book is fucking terrible.

Armada hopes to win you over with a metric-fuck-tonne (if I'm using the metric system, I must use the Queen's English - tonne instead of ton, it is then) of pop culture references. In the first third of the book, Cline describes everything using these references. Everything. This is like that and that is like this. Nothing wrong with that. Not in my mind, anyway. I became worried when I noticed that the book wasn't just full of pop culture references, it was one big pop culture reference. I started making predictions. Those predictions came true time and time again. In fact, I was never wrong. Why? Because this book is everything else. It was designed to sell strictly on your love of other things. You're not going to like this book for its plot or characters. You're going to like this book because it's comforting. You'll be able to point at everything and say, "Hey, I know that reference!" This novel is the literary equivalent of a Funko Pop doll. Nerds will be judged on how many times they've read it. Geeks will argue over how self aware it is, and how its barely-literate author is a fucking genius for making millions off their cherished memories. Dorks will rise up and create a board game out of its contents, and that board game shall be dubbed HOW MANY TIMES CAN I WRITE "HIS FACE CONTORTED IN AGONY?!?!?!?!?!" I love my fellow nerds and geeks and dorks, but you're being played like the video games you love. This book is to nerd culture what Episode One was to Star Wars.

Had this book done one thing original, I wouldn't be half as infuriated as I am right now. I wasted almost a week of my life reading this miserable puddle of nerd semen only to come to the end and find out - "HAHAHAHAHA I'm so self aware and meta" - that the ending is one of the top three things you don't do at the end of a science fiction novel. I won't spoil the ending for you, but the list goes as such:

1. It was all a dream/the dream was real.

2. The alien threat wasn't really the threat humanity should have felt threatened by/humanity is the real threat.

3. The whole thing was a simulation/the simulation was actually the real thing.

Now that I think about it, two of those things are true in this novel, but at separate times. Armada is so self aware that I'm honestly surprised Cline didn't reference himself in the book. Or if he did, I didn't notice because my brain started leaking from my ears around the 280-page mark.

In summation: Holy shit, this book was bad. Like, Drake and the 99 Dragons bad. Like, it can't get past the first level of Super Mario Brothers bad. Like, so bad that Cersei wouldn't fuck it... even if it was her blood relative.

Final Judgement: If Patrick Rothfuss ate John Scalzi this book would be the eventual excrement.


I expected something more original...


I was really excited to read Armada since I read some months ago Ready Player One and I enjoyed A LOT that other book.

So, reading the next novel by Ernest Cline was a obvious decision.

I was aware of the basic premise, and I really hoped to read something fresh and original with the same sense of witty and humor found on Ready Player One, but while I can’t deny that Armada contains witty and humor, I didn’t find it fresh or original.

Any big reason? ...

...some book that you may heard about (not matter if you have read it or not)...

...Ender’s Game.

Cline didn’t do any attempt (that it could be pointless and illogical) to hide the connection to the mentioned novel, in fact in the “reality” of the book, Ender’s Game exists as the same known sci-fi novel than in “our” reality.

But, one thing is aknowledge the novel and other is trying to make a “readers’ friendly” version of that novel. Ender’s Game is a complex book, you love it or hate it, very rarely you are in the middle about it (where to be fair, I think that I am in the middle). There are many reasons why readers hate the book, some illogical like the personal opinions of the author about polemic topics (if I’d worry about personal thinking about authors, actors, musicians, etc… Very likely I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a lot of good books, movies, tv series and music albums). I prefer a shitty person but good writer than a good person but shitty writer. (Yes, I got that from the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars).

Anyway, there are other issues on the actual book like the age of the main character in contrast with his too mature attitude or violent actions. But, at least it was original.

Honestly, I don’t think the same about Armada.

And if some of you (my fellow geeks) are thinking about the movie The Last Starfighter, don’t worry, Cline mentions that film too...

...of course he has to mention it!!! He’s shamelessly merging Ender’s Game (book) with The Last Starfighter (movie) as being any able to avoid mention those. But, being open to mention the awareness of those projects and excusing them as “being part of a bigger plan” to explain why Armada is so much like those previous stories, it isn’t a satisfactory scenario to justify the lack of originality in this novel.

On the narrative, there is even a large and meticulous list of all works about alien invasions, military sci-fi and books/movies about using civilians (usually teenagers) in video game simulations to train them for real military duties. Where in that, I was amazed that (taking in account how extensive the list is) it wasn’t mentioned the film “Toys” (1992) with Robin Williams. Yes, the movie is pretty lame, but hey! Its general story makes a bullseye on about what’s about the main topic on the novel as to be picky about it and not mentioning it. (The sci-fi list covers until 1999, so there is no reason why to skip that movie since it fits in that “big conspiration theory” like a glove).

Another curious thing is that Zack Lightman, the main character, has a history of previous violence and even a bully is afraid of him. The bullies are afraid of the geeks?! What kind of insane world is that one?! Hehehe.

I didn’t see the point of portraiting Zack Lightman with a past of violence. I know many gamers whom they don’t kill a fly in real world and they are insane killers in video games. It was like taking Ender Wiggin but instead of recruiting him as a small child and waiting until he is eighteen years old. While I understand the disliking of some readers of a child doing the kind of violence as Ender, at least that’s something to talk about, something polemic, any controversy is good for the general impact of a story... but a 18-years old man with a violent past? Mmh... Nope, no controversy there, sorry.

I won’t spoil the ending, don’t worry, I will only say that even the way as “the twist” in the story is managed, it isn’t that original, fresh or innovative. Basically it’s a kinda loose reverse way of The New Twilight Zone episode “A Small Talent for War” (that it was considered one of the best episodes of the revival TV series. It impacted me so much when I watched it, back then in 1986, that I still remember the basic storyline of the TV episode).

Hey! If you don’t want geeks (like me) to point out that they read/hear/watch a similar story before, then don’t do “geek stories”, since we (geeks) love to show off our geekness’ sapienza, totally worthless in the day-to-day real life, but fun to point out when something isn’t as original as others may think.

Wait a minute! 1986? The episode of The New Twilight Zone was aired in 1986??!

Ender's Game was published in 1986!!!

Dang! Forget 1985! This novel should be titled "1986 Strikes Back!"


You may think that a geek (like me) will be in paradise in a novel like Armada where in almost every single paragraph, there are like between 2 and 6 pop culture geek references.

If so...

You thought...


I don’t know, maybe I am not as geek as I think… who am I kidding? I am a dang geek! But, honestly, even I found irritating/excesive/unnecesary (pick your poison) to include such overwhelming ludicrous HUGE chunk of popular culture geek references in every single dang paragraph in the whole novel.

Did I understand the geek references?

Sure! I am a geek, duh!

However, unless I am in the middle of a “deep” discussion with fellow geek friends, I don’t think or speak out loud so many pop culture geek references in day-to-day situations. Believe it or not, if we (geeks) opted of not wearing a geek-related t-shirt, we (geeks) can mingle in the middle of non-geek masses and you (non-geek) won’t be able to indentify us...


Mmh... Of course, it helps too if we (geeks) opted to avoid laughing out loud in machiavellian style! In that way our camouflage is impeccable... Bwa...mmh...right, right...

But really, I am a geek and I don’t think or speak like Zack Lightman, and even I can’t believe that the most obsessive real life geek may think or speak as Zack Lightman does. Yes, I know, it’s a book and usually that kind of characters are archetypes intentionally exaggerated to construct epitome-like characters and in that way, being able to differentiate between different characters in a story and/or clearly pointing out the purpose of the character in the narrative. However, while in Ready Player One I felt that pop culture references were used in a proper way, with the right amount of it, here, in Armada, the author just lost control of it and the popular culture geek references just ran free crushing any chance of enjoying the reading experience.

In a smaller note, but relevant, I think that the novel takes a bit too much to engage, since after two compelling initial chapters, you get lost in over-detailing descriptions of video game sessions before reaching the point where the story begins to kick, provoking a “bump” in the first part of the book.

At the end, I felt not fair giving it at least a 3-stars rating, which it puts the novel in the safe positive side of the rating bar, but definitely I expected a lot more of this book, taking in account, Cline’s great job in Ready Player One. I don’t regret having read it, but I was looking for something more original and enjoyable and sadly it wasn’t the case.


This was disappointing, especially compared to Ready Player One. I'm definitely not the target audience for this, but...still. It's kinda fun, but also utterly predictable.

(Also, to all the people that have commented on this review and acted annoyed at me that it's more The Last Starfighter than Ender's Game: Haven't seen The Last Starfighter. Don't care to. No need to get after me about it.)


So basically...Ender's Game?

Sure, why not? This'll probably be better than Ender's Game anyway.