By Ernest Cline

armadaIn 2010 Ernest Cline had a megahit debut with his novel Ready Player One, which was all about the fanboy/geek/nerd experience that marks the muddy confluence of late twentieth-century pop culture with twenty-first century gaming and virtual reality.

In Armada he’s back with more of the same. Zack Lightman is a high school student in Beaverton, Oregon whose favourite videogame about alien invaders suddenly takes a turn for the real one day. Thousands of misspent hours are about to be redeemed!

This is an idea that actually has quite a history, running from SF novels like Ender’s Game to films like The Last Starfighter and the more recent Pixels. These are the kinds of sources Zack is very familiar with, being an aficionado of all things mass media from 1980 on.

The result is a twitchy novel so packed with in-jokes you get the sense the characters could carry on whole conversations just by quoting dialogue from their favourite movies. Cline has clearly targeted an expansive niche that straddles the YA and “kidult” demographics, so it’s perfectly natural that Zack and his missing father share an identical headspace: there is no generational gap any more, or division between the real and the digital. Space has become the new fantasy Neverland, where no one has to grow up and you can save the world with a joystick.

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