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Armada    by Ernest Cline order for
by Ernest Cline
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Ever since reading his Ready Player One, anything by Ernest Cline is not only on my must read list, it's on my must pounce on list. So I pounced on Armada! It's an enthralling coming-of-age adventure that gives nods to Ender's Game and The Last Starfighter, but follows its own drummer.

Young Zack Lightman is an unashamed nerd, a gamer geek. A high school student, he works part-time for Ray at the Starbase Ace gaming store where he plays his favorite videogame, Armada, at every opportunity. And he's very good at it. Having started as 'a human recruit in the Earth Defense Alliance', Zack is now one of the elite players - his character, IronBeagle, is in sixth place.

Zack's gaming world infringes on reality when he sees a flying saucer (that looks exactly like an Armada fighter ship) out of his classroom window - and he's daydreamed all his life about 'the unexpected arrival of beings from another world.' Unfortunately, this lot doesn't seem to be friendly!

Zack's father died at nineteen. After reading his old journals, playing his videogames and watching his old movies, Zack believes his dad was a delusional conspiracy nut who had 'lost the ability to differentiate between videogames and reality'. Had the apple fallen 'next to the Crazy Tree' or was Zack's father correct?

Of course, you can see what's coming. Zack is asked to enlist in the real Earth Defense Alliance and save the world from the evil alien invaders. He falls hard for a young woman, Lex, a fellow soldier, and fights alongside fellow gamers, under a General who knows him very well. Zack doesn't daydream about adventure any more as he's right in the middle of it!

But there's something not quite right about the entire setup - and Zack has more than one huge surprise before it's all over and his biggest question is answered - why does a real alien invasion play out just like a videogame?

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