Because I'm a bookseller and a nerd, I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and totally enjoyed it. I'm not a 100% match for it (not an 80's media savant, nor particularly inclined to arcade games) but I am a reader who enjoys a page-turner about nerdy kids sticking it to the man. So, I really, really liked Ready Player One because of that.
I loved Armada.
The geekery and the furiously paced plot from Ready Player One are still there, so I imagine it will please most of his existing fans. But I suspect that Armada will garner him an even larger group of fans than the formidable crew he's already assembled.
I've heard the critique that, occasionally, in his debut, Cline perhaps laid the reference game a little thick on the ground for no purpose other than that he's into that stuff— and in so doing did not appeal to some readers. I liked Ready Player One despite having never played a game of Joust in my life, but I saw the point those critics made. I think, at it's best, Ready Player One's call outs serve to make readers feel included in this otherwise unreal and distant future, and there's nothing wrong with inclusion.
That feeling of inclusion still runs strong in Armada. But the references are broader (those few people left in the world who haven't seen Star Wars aren't going to be into this anyway, so whatever) and more than that, they're central to the plot.
Understanding the sci-fi media landscape is integral to appreciating the whole story. And aside from being a super fun, propulsive book perfect for your summer reading needs, it's also an apt criticism about how we talk about the potential intelligent life forms with whom we might share the universe.
Why does the way we talk about aliens that may or may not exist at all matter? Because what we're talking about when we talk about aliens isn't just science fiction. It's about how we talk about what we don't know, what we don't understand. And that's the same mental exercise we do every day, whenever we interact with someone who feels different, or other than ourselves.
And that's the crux of why my love for Armada runs deeply. It's a joyous, rollicking read. But it's also a sneaky discussion on xenophobia, miscommunication and what real courage is.
With hella drones.
And let's be real.
Drones are cool