Has it really taken us nearly one hundred years – or even eighty – to get to the point where the characters in science fiction are themselves aware of science fiction? That self-consciousness seems essential to the sorts of folks who end up in science fiction novels. Meet Zack Lightman, the kid at school who plays way too much Armada, a video game about alien invasion. Soon enough, of course, a saucer from the game shows up outside his schoolroom window, and his world gets s good deal more surreal.
As with Ready Player One, Cline trades on his encyclopedic knowledge of both video games and science fiction, and has a lot of fun doing so. But for all the in-jokes and cross-referencing going on here, it’s important to remember that Cline is working in a literary genre, that is, the novel – and the intricate structure he creates is primarily literary. Armada is not a video game. Cline knows that he’s working with the reader to create this world, not simply unreeling a series of special effects. We do care about the characters, and the science-fiction fantasies play out against a rather droll suburban backdrop. If you’re inclined to think that Armada is just about alien invasions, think again. Let the saucers arrive. Those who have to fight them now have a pretty damn good job opportunity.
Of course, sitting down to talk with Ernest Cline about this novel is itself a rather different digression. It’s all about digging into the fun stuff behind the special literary effects.
Or you can listen here.
Or, settle back and listen here. Your boss won’t know what’s coming out of the headphones.