Space Invaders. Galaga. Asteroids. Defender. Tempest. Missile Command. What do all of these things have in common? Many of us spent hours of our teenage years (and even into our twenties or beyond), playing these games in arcades and on home gaming systems. We tried to keep our initials in the list of top scores. We swapped tricks and tips with friends and tried to best each other's scores. And some of us secretly hoped that one day a recruiter would come and ask us to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada, just like Alex Rogan in "The Last Starfighter."
Obviously, Ernest Cline understands that mindset very well. In his latest book he creates a world very different from that of Ready, Player One. Rather than a future with dwindling resources and a populace spending every bit of free time in virtual reality, Armada is set in a present-day world. Teenagers still drive hand-me-down cars that seem held together by rust and memories. Bullies still throw spitwads behind the teacher's back. And kids (young and old), love video games - especially Terra Firma and Armada.
The two games share a common story arc and are complementary in nature; TF focuses on controlling battle machines (a bit like "Pacific Rim" or "Robot Jox"), while Armada players are piloting space ships against an enemy fleet. Both games are fighting the same alien invaders and players can earn ranks with their skills. Zack Lightman is one of the best Armada players in the world. He comes by it naturally, because both his parents were gamers in their day. But he thinks he is losing his mind when he spots a ship just like the one in the game outside the window of his high school. Maybe it's time to unplug for a little while, right?
Luckily for the world he lives in, and for us as readers, Zack does not give up his Armada habit. Because it seems that "The Last Starfighter" may have been a bit closer to reality than any of us thought.
Just to be clear, so no one feels cheated - this is not a sequel to Ready, Player One. The characters, setting, and plot are all very different. But the feeling of nostalgia and being immersed in pop culture from the mid-1970s and onward through more recent phenomena like X-Files is still there. Everything from the game patches on Xavier Lightman's jacket, to the songs on the "Raid the Arcade" mix tape, and even the movie quotes from "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters" will immerse you in sci-fi/fantasy geekdom nirvana. I highly recommend it.
For more information on how the author came to have such a keen grasp of all things nerdy and geeky, in the coolest possible way, check out his Author Bio. And you can find ordering information about the book on the Penguin Random House website.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
P.S. Just for comparison, here is the cover from the hardback edition, which is the first one that I read. It has more of the feel of the vintage arcade games featured in the books, but the paperback cover is more of a scene from the book itself. Preferences, anyone?