The Second Time is never the same

Blog No. 142

I am a big fan of the book Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. I wouldn’t call it my favourite, but I do like it enough to have given it two reviews on this blog in the past. It’s a fun ride that swerves sharply down memory lane. Highly praised and being adapted into a Stephen Spielberg film, I don’t really need to go into too much detail about it. The second offering from the author is called Armada. It has been out for a couple of weeks and even before it was finished, the movie rights were snatched up. Excitement has been rising since the book’s announcement shortly after the publication of Ready Player One. Everything was pointing to Armada being another fun, reference laden sci-fi story. I expected to love it, ordered it as a hard cover, and waited eagerly for it to arrive.

The book arrived and looked great. The cover is cool and inside the dust jacket had awesome diagrams for the ship the main character pilots. I was pumped and ready to read. Over the next few days (I’m a slow reader but when my interest is piqued I can plough through a book) I read during my free time and before I went to bed. Other than some obvious and unnecessary repetition, the writing was fine. It wasn’t spectacular, but for the type of story, and based on what we got for Ready Play One, it was right in line. There were some places where I would have worded things differently, but as a writer, I don’t think there will be many books where I wouldn’t. As far as the story, I think Cline’s editor let him down. I lost count of all the continuity errors, but I would wager there were about a dozen throughout the book. Some were small, like saying the protagonist couldn’t read his father’s handwriting in on paragraph and when half to the plot revolves around the father’s journal, which he read as a boy, and again at the start of the book). That’s one that annoys, but can be overlooked. What stopped me in my tracks was setting up a scenario early on, bringing it back for the conclusion, but changing the dynamics to the point of absurdity. While that may not make sense, it is the climax of the book, and I don’t want to give it away.

For the most part, I did enjoy the book, hiccups aside. The pop culture references were toned down (or at least said and not always explained). I found it easier to take a string of muddled quotes when the pace didn’t have to stutter over a bibliography entry. There were a few times when I found a character would list too many in a row, linking phrases from multiple franchises. It was bad enough when a group ran though different iconic lines, a single character doing it sounds forced. Those times were few though, and as transparent as some of the plot was (one character seemed to be put in as a swiss-army-knife of computer talents just so the protagonist could get out of some jams) it was an exciting story that many sci-fi geeks have dreamed of living themselves.

What the book comes down to, though, is a mildly entertaining plot with a reasonably relatable protagonist who gets swept up in a fairly exciting story (certainly packed with danger) with a moderately interesting puzzle (which is completely laid out by the protagonist’s father half way through the book). Looking past the main character’s name (Zack Lightman) given those elements, I would say I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others. Unfortunately, since the ending (all five or six of them) was such a curtailed, contradictory let down, the whole experience left a sour taste in my mouth. The climax is within twenty pages of the end, leaving a stilted conclusion that can’t make up its mind. The final resolution to the story (taken as suspect by the protagonist) is abrupt and watered down, then followed by short vignettes that go nowhere and show the main character change his mind several times, making him flip flop in the span of two pages. There were a few parts I liked about Armada, but the story just couldn’t fulfill the promise of the first book.

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