Friday, February 12, 2016

Book 10: Authors be referencin', I be dreading the eventual demise of all that is good and right in the the world, brought low by this terrible book.

For the first time in a long time, I have hate read a book.

It's hard to know where to begin with the many many things I disliked about Armada: The Novel, so I'm going to just list them as quickly as I can.

1. You can't kill off a character 3 or 4 or a jillion times to create sympathy.
2. If you're going to do a remake add something to it for God's sake.
3. We get it you like pop culture and also you want to create artificial feelings of nostalgia/kinship.
4. Maybe you should've named the book "I Pre-Sold The Movie And Videogame Rights"
5. There's a twist! No wait there's TWO twists! No wait there's a hundred twists!
6. Gross.
7. F*** Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

*phew* That'll do for starters.  I wanted to like Armada: The Franchise Builder, because Ready Player One, Ernest Cline's first book, had turned out to be a pleasant surprise. But much like those Disney cartoons that get rolled out quickly to take advantage of a hot market -- The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2?-- Armada: The Cash-In was mostly a bunch of dreck foisted off on readers.

Having made my list, let me stick to that order and meander around just how terrible this book is.  To begin with, I'll discuss the fake ways of jerking someone's emotions around that Cline resorts to. SPOILERS ABOUND here, but nothing you won't see coming a million miles away anyway, so don't worry.

The book is about a kid -- I honestly don't remember his name; I'm pretty sure they said what it was, but that's how cardboard and forgettable the main character is-- whose dad "died" when he was 1, and the kid has been growing up missing him and listening to a mixtape his dad left behind and also watching all his dad's old VHS tapes of movies that he left behind too. But mostly missing him. Dad died! OMG! But then the kid finds out his dad WASN'T dead after all he was just living on the dark side of the moon ready to defend Earth from aliens (Seriously.) So the kid reunites with his dad, only to have to take part in an alien battle over Antarctica (this is way dumber even than it sounds) with Dad and a couple of great videogamers. (Seriously.) In this battle, Dad decides that he has to kamikaze his starfighter into an alien Whatchamajigger that defuses drones or something -- where the book isn't videogame technobabble it's just pure nonsense that tries hard to sound like science -- and the kid gets all torn apart when dad crashes his plane into the Thingamajig. OMG Dad's dead and I only just met him!

Then, HONESTLY, it TURNS OUT DAD EJECTED AT THE LAST SECOND hooray he's alive! Only his pod is missing and sunk in the ocean and kid is again despondent and going to let his own starfighter sink in the water. BUT WAIT DAD'S POD IS RIGHT BELOW HIS JET. (Seriously.) Kid grabs him with robot arms and is going to save him but OH NO DAD'S EYES ARE CLOSED AND HIS FACE IS BLOODY AND PALE AGAINST THE GLASS HE'S DEAD AGAIN oh no sorry he's got a pulse.

This goes on for a while, including later in the book where Dad "dies" like three times invading his own base. At the very end, when kid is looking at a statue of dad I expected it to come alive and then die again.

The entire book is made up of cheap emotional ploys like that. People fall instantly in love, turn out to be superloyal for no reason, turn on each other as traitors and then turn out to be okay, get enraged at the drop of the hat and then are hugging, and then in one gross scene everyone starts having sex just before the aliens invade. SERIOUSLY.  It's like Cline was rolling a dice every page to pick an emotion his characters would feel, and then cramming it in somehow.

Which brings me to point 3, skipping point 2 for a second.  I mentioned dice. So does Cline, who manages to reference dice, including 10-sided and 20-sided dice, at random intervals. He also mentions D&D and I think a few other RPGs. Plus he references most popular videogames from 1977 on. Plus he makes reference to every single scifi or fantasy movie in the last forty years, numerous times.  Not just numerous times. A NAUSEATING number of times. In one paragraph near the end, as the characters are getting ready to battle, one of the characters says May the Force be with us. Then another one comes up with Theoden's battle cry from Lord of The Rings (I had to look it up.) Then another says some battle cry from They Live. In ONE paragraph. This is what the entire book is like. Seemingly every line is directly ripped off/quoted/referenced to some movie or book or role-playing game, to the point where the ones that didn't immediately ring a bell felt suspect. It was like reading a mashup of every book ever written. At one point the characters debate a kind of weapon that was in the Dune movie but not the book -- and then discuss that, too. It felt like a challenge: How many scifi movies can you name on a single page?

There's really no reason for that level of excess.  A reference or two here or there is fine, especially if your main character is obsessed with the 80s or something.  Too much of it feels forced and this level of it just becomes annoying. It's not only a cheap way to try to create a feeling in people, but eventually it makes the entire book feel like a lame version of Trivial Pursuit,

Then again, the book is a lame version of every other story like this already.  (This is point #2, now, about remakes.)  Ready Player One took the standard man goes into videogame storyline and made it feel a bit fresher because the characters were likeable, the puzzles were interesting, and the concept of an artificial reality was so well fleshed out. It was nostalgic yet fun at the same time, and it was it's own creation -- sort of the way Cheap Trick did such a great job on Don't Be Cruel.

I always hold up that song as the ideal remake: faithful to the original concept but putting the band's own spin on it.

I don't mind remakes, sequels, similar stories, whatever, so long as they're good and add something. The Harry Potter books told the same story, really, as The Magicians, which told the same story really as the Narnia books, but each brought their own flair to it.  So I enjoyed all three.

Armada: The Waste Of Time so directly rips off The Last Starfighter that it might as well be called The Last Starfighter 2: Electric Boogaloo.  The basic plot is: there are two video games that mimic an alien invasion, and they are superpopular. Turns out the videogames are actually trainers for people to learn to really fight aliens, and the best of them get to be in the Earth Defense Army or something -- including the kid who tells the story, and he's like number 5 in the entire world -- with only his dad and three other actual army guys ahead of him.

That's not just the plot of The Last Starfighter but Iron Eagle and a bunch of other movies, which might not be so bad if Cline -- through the narrator -- didn't say as much, and also if Cline had in any way improved on the plot or made it seem fresh or interesting. He doesn't. He just goes through the exact motions you expect the thing to go through, hitting points A, B, and C on the outline of this story. It's a paint-by-numbers novel that would have been boring except that I hated it so much. My reading was fueled by rage.

 This book could've been written by a computer, and reads like it was: feed in a basic plot, hook the computer up to a couple websites, and it will spit this book back out.  So why follow up a good-not-great surprise hit like Ready Player One with basic drone hackwork like this? I could guess that Cline maybe got a bit lucky and wrote over his skill level on Ready Player One, or I could guess instead that Cline is simply cashing in, the way Steve Carell made Evan, Almightyi: not because it was good, but because he was hot right then and wanted to get paid.  The movie rights to Armada: The Quick Buck were sold before any part of the book was written; Universal bought them based on a 20-page proposal. This book feels like it was written simply to meet a contractual expectation, and that's because it was.  To give you an idea of how low Cline was aiming, before the book was even written the Armada: The Direct To Video Movie rights were assigned to the director who had made Battleship.

That was point 2 melding into point 4. So by this point, you're probably asking what Sweetie asked me all week, too: Why are you reading this? I would sit and drink my coffee in the morning and then start ranting about whatever piece of hack drivel I'd just read.  I told her: I was hate reading it, and I was, but only... ONLY... to find out what the twist was.

Like I said, on nearly every page Cline telegraphs the twist in the book.  It might as well have been called "M. Night Shymalan Presents Armada: Bruce Willis Is Dead All Along," for all the subtlety this book has. Every page is laden with foreboding that would make a Twilight Zone episode complain about how obvious the twists were.

The twists that are telegraphed include: the obvious fact that the videogames are training people or testing people for something; that the kid's boss at the videogame shop is obviously a front for something; that the kid's dad is still alive; that the kid is going to be instrumental in helping fight off the invasion; that Earth really does have a moon base.  All of these might as well have been chapter headings.  Cline obviously gauged his readers' intelligence at around -2.  But there's a big twist coming at the end of the book, one that is hinted at about every three pages or so and then directly addressed once a chapter, and I was reading solely to find out what the twist was.

Here are my guesses along the way for what the big twist was:

1. The kid is a clone of his dad being raised by his own mom/former wife.
2. The kid's dad is actually the alien leader they're getting ready to fight.
3. The KID is actually the alien leader they are getting ready to fight.
4. The kid was knocked out and this is all a dream. (SERIOUSLY, there are hints that this is what's going on.)
5. All of humanity is actually a big videogame.
6. At the end the aliens would reference Wargames and say The only winning move is not to play.

The big twist, then, turned out to be a lamer version of number 6.  In the end -- spoilers, if anyone is still planning on hate-reading this themselves-- the aliens didn't really want to fight. They wanted to test humanity to see if humanity was ready to join the universe.

That's already a South Park episode and it was a lot funnier there.  But that's the twist: the aliens put a giant swastika on Europa and goaded Richard Nixon into dropping a nuke into Europa's oceans, then declared war on humanity to see if humanity would fight back or try to make peace.  The aliens then keep escalating the war (while making sure that humans get hold of their alien tech to use) in order ot see if the humans will try to wipe them out or will make peace.  When the kid and his dad figure it out and manage to beat the entire alien army and the entire human army and then make peace, humanity is accepted into the universe, and humanity just sort of shrugs off the 30,000,000 or so people that were killed by the aliens in getting to that point.

That's the plot, and the twist: Some aliens used one of the most horrifying symbols in human history to goad humanity into attacking, then declared war on us when we did, all to see if we would fight back or surrender, and by surrendering -- by deciding not to play, a la Wargames -- we won.


Oh and is a sequel in the works? YOU BET: at the end the kid decides he's had enough of war and aliens and goes back to work at the videogame shop, and cancer is cured and we have fusion energy and everything's great, and then on like the second-last page the kid says oh wait I think I want to be an ambassador to the aliens and see if I can maybe figure out why they did this weird trick and maybe get an adventure or something. Armada 2: The Rearmada-ing I'm sure is being dribbled out by some brain-dead laptop in a Starbucks in Texas while Ernest Cline swims in his room full of coins like Scrooge McDuck.

 That leaves just 6 and 7 to wrap up.  6 was Gross. I mentioned the other day how Cline threw in a paragraph where the kid admits having the Oedipal hots for his mom, and we've already been told how his mom thinks he's the spitting image of his dad at the age his dad died, so I was figuring we were maybe one chapter away from me having to go to confession just for reading the book, but Cline swung away from that. He did have everyone in the moon base start having sex while the kid and his dad were in an abandoned area talking about how the aliens were actually maybe not trying to kill the humans, and then he mentions that in between waves of the invasion the kid tried to call his dad only to get no answer and then dad finally picks up the videophone and basically says he was just having sex with the kid's mom and the kid is all yeah who could blame him.  I'm no prude but every time sex came up, it was just squeegy in this book. It was like Cline was under orders to include something about sex so he tried to do it in weird ways.  It wasn't quite as bad as Stephen King's orgy of 12 year olds in a sewer in It but it was still weirdly out of place and strangely presented.

Point 7 is F*** Neil De Grasse Tyson. He makes an appearance here at the end on some science council or something. Neil De Grasse Tyson one of the most annoying people alive today. Putting him in here was the basest form of sucking up to a guy who should be roundly ignored for being such a douche. Putting Neil De Grasse Tyson into something kills it for me. If I had won the 1.5 billion Powerball a few weeks ago but had to collect the money from Neil De Grasse Tyson, I would think seriously about turning down the prize, and I would never quite enjoy the money. That was like the final insult in this book: Neil De Grasse Tyson turning up to spit on the hollow corpse of my previous enjoyment of Cline's writing.

AVOID this book. If you see it, throw garlic or holy water at it or something. I'm just sad I stuck it out because now it will probably be in my mind for the rest of my life. I will forget pleasant sunny days with the boys, nights watching the stars with Sweetie, delicious meals; my mind will lose track of so much beauty and so much light and so much love -- but I know this colossal farce of a book will somehow lodge itself in my mind, to torment me in the small hours of my old age, popping up with is ridiculous premise and Potemkin plot, its lame one-liners and sad, sorry attempts at pop culture relevance through simple name-checking of better, smarter books and movies. The terrible weight of the hours I spent reading this book will drag my once-bright soul down to the Styxian waters of despair, leaving me to turn my tormented face to the sky and howl with rage at the cruelties of fate -- a fate I brought on myself by reading this book.

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