Armada – Ernest Cline

Let’s set the scene here a little bit. The heyday of my youth – the bit with the music, University, enough energy to do two or three aerobics classes a week, being a size 10 – was in the 80s. However, while I was an okay pool and pinball player at University I left video games well alone – I had a go at games on my brother’s ZX81 but when you realise that you are no good at Pacman and can’t get past the goblin prison in the Hobbit you know its time to leave gaming to the experts and stick to books. I was always in awe of the best video gamers – in an era when arcades were the only way to play, making it a spectator sport on occasion – and can still remember watching Wilf Sylph clocking the counter on an all-night session on Defender (or possibly Elite, as I say I was just a spectator…). Ah, happy days…

armadaLet’s fast forward then (archaic reference to audio/video tapes there…) to the latest book by Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One. The book is set in modern-day America and opens with the hero, Zack, gazing out of a classroom window, idling away the final weeks before graduation. His attention is seized by a spacecraft, which no-one else spots, and his mind is totally blown by the fact that the ship is an exact replica of one he fights everyday in a hugely popular computer game. And then it turns out that the common gamer legend – that the best-selling arcade and online games are clandestine training for the military – is not a conspiracy theory after all…

What I enjoyed most about this book – apart from a kick-ass plot and a really believable and diverse cast of characters – was the detail. Zack works in a very geeky game store for Ron, who is basically a friendlier version of comic book guy (Best. Boss. Ever.) and turns out to be a huge Rush fan. And figures like Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking pop up all over the place because, well, if there were an organisation committed to protecting the planet from alien invaders these are the guys you would want to be on our team. And if we need to have gamers manning the defenses then I’d be happiest if, as in this book, they were the highest scorers on the game that had been used for the training.

Obviously there is more to the plot than this but I don’t want to give away any of the surprises. But if you are a gamer, or know gamers and what makes them tick (snacks and a really good playlist seem to be key) then this book should hit the spot like a young Luke Skywalker hunting womp rats…



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