I could sum up this review with one short sentence: this is one of the worst, the most shameless and cringe-worthy case of Mary Sue-ism I have ever read, even worse than Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Period.
But that would be unfair to all the readers. When you see such an authoritative assertion, you want to know the reasons for it. All right. Here they come.
Cline’s second novel, Armada, describes an alien invasion on Earth. Just like in most of the books and movies you’ve ever seen: the bad aliens swoop down from the heavens to wreak havoc and kill innocent lives. More, it’s EXACTLY like most of the books and movies you’ve seen, because Cline shamelessly rips off everything that there is to be ripped off, from Star Wars and Star Trek to Top Gun, Iron Eagle, The Last Starfighter, Rocky and even Snoopy… To say that his novel is full of allusions and references would be to say nothing at all. His novel is comprised solely of those worn, well-loved but equally well-known, simple and obvious themes and motifs. It could be construed as plagiarism, but Cline doesn’t hide his inspirations, on the contrary. So if you’re worried you wouldn’t catch all the references, don’t: Cline will spell them out for you, in big, bold, sparkling letters. He will shovel them in your mouth and watch you gag. It could have been nerds’ heaven, but instead is some kind of exceptionally terrible hell. Not even purgatory, because you know that there your punishment would end. Here – not really. Since the opening sentences to the very end, full of monuments and inscriptions and medals, the whole novel is one dragging, unending, nerdy Mary Sue wet dream. (Yeah, I’m not really into that Marty Stu stuff. Mary Sue covers both sexes perfectly well.) Alas, what to expect from a guy who drives DeLorean?
A fair share of spoilers ahead, but as we all know that story, I don’t think you need to worry. As long-upheld tradition wills it, it all starts with a kid living in the middle of nowhere. He is brilliant and good and heroic, even though his father had died right after our hero had been born, and he had been growing up angry and conflicted. A rebel without a cause, self-aware just enough to compare himself to Luke Skywalker and other great characters from the deep well of the Western pop-culture.
If there was a bright center to the universe, I was on the planet it was farthest from. Please pass the blue milk, Aunt Beru.
His mother heroically raised him on her own. She never remarried, even after eighteen years of solitude still too deep in love with the deceased father to bring home another man. Our teenage protagonist also adores his never-seen father. He listens to the same music, using his father’s old tapes, he also went through all of his father’s belongings in his search for a role model and hero. He even defended his father’s honor, fracturing a jaw of a school bully in the process. Not only does he do the same things his late parent did, mainly – computer game playing, but he looks like his spitting image, too. And that breaks his Sarah Connor mother’s heart…
That’s soo sweet, right? But don’t puke yet, you’ll have ample opportunity to do it later on. Start too early and you won’t have enough for the finish.
Our brave Zachary Lightman, the only son of Xavier Ulysses Lightman (!) has a couple of best friends who banter goodheartedly about the virtues of Mjolnir vs. Sting and whose main role is to create a joyful, if not too bright backdrop against which our Special Snowflake Mary Sue would shine in stark relief. And that’s even before the alien invasion, in which the impeccable hero armed with his knowledge of the 80’s pop culture will play one of the main parts. Oh believe me, there is so much of badly botched foreshadowing that you know how it will all end even before it really starts. Because, obviously, nothing is exactly what it seems. Of course, Zack will find his father, miraculously and gloriously alive, an esteemed general of the human army fighting against the invaders. They will fight arm to arm, hand in hand, preventing the humanity’s too early demise in an act of selfless sacrifice. But not to worry, in the one day that’s left before the imminent disaster there will be time for a love interest to bloom and even for the requisite dollop of political correctness: the ass-kicking team of best pilot fighters will contain a Chinese boy in love with Western culture, a sixteen-year-old African American girl, who quotes Scripture and Shakespeare every time she opens her mouth, and whose parents died in the aftermath of Katrina hurricane, a stay-at-home, middle-aged, white mother of three boys, a gay white male from Philly, who loves smoking weed and being obnoxious, and of course our eighteen-year-old hero-in-the-making. Yeah, you can puke now.
Imagine Ender’s Game chewed, digested and regurgitated, then chewed again only to finally be excreted. Without the philosophy, harsh cruelty, and – most importantly – without the mind-bending twist that made Card’s book unique. Imagine Star Wars without the childlike enthusiasm and the air of wonder, Star Wars made only for money. Actually, simply imagine The Phantom Menace where Jar Jar Binks plays the leading role. Or, heck, just watch Jar Jar Abrams’s new trilogy.
Imagine Top Gun without Iceman, but with Vanilla Sky Tom Cruise instead. You get my drift… Take the movies you like the most, be they silly or even slightly embarrassing, and tear away everything that made them so dear to you. The remaining part will be Armada. It’s a Frankenstein of pop culture science fiction and fantasy. A soulless monster made only so that somebody could stroke their overblown ego and churn out bucks by the thousand. The worst part is that I can actually imagine Cline writing this shameful peace of crap and feeling good about himself. I’m sure there were lots of people who thought it was just brilliant and urged him on. But in my opinion, this is simply bad. Bad taste, bad execution (for a while I was convinced that this was his first book, written much earlier than Ready Player One and put into a drawer because nobody wanted to publish this piece of… terrible writing – because it is just that bad), bad storyline, bad characters, bad everything…
There is literally nothing in this book that I could praise or recommend. I’ll give you a quote instead:
Debbie was still weeping silently in her seat. Whoadie put an arm around her. “Oft have I heard that grief softens the mind,” the young woman recited. “And makes it fearful and degenerate; Think therefore on revenge and cease to weep.” Debbie nodded and took a deep breath. Then, in what seemed like the space of a few seconds, I saw her expression transform from grief into pure, unbridled rage.
Yeah, that’s really there. And it’s just a randomly chosen bit. The whole novel is written just like this, at least when it for a few seconds stops being a blatant rip-off of some other game or movie or book. Everything there is unbridled, terrifying or awesome. Well, except the book itself.