Literature / Armada

Armada is a 2015 novel by Ernest Cline. Much like his previous work Ready Player One, Armada is full of pop culture references - mainly from The '80s, since the author is, as anyone can see, a geek.

The story is about Zack Lightman, a video game geek with a Disappeared Dad who finds out that the video games he has been playing aren't exactly fictional.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Lots of examples. The top ranked players in Armada including Zack, Redjive, Viper, etc.
  • Action Mom: Debbie aka Atomic Mom is one.
  • The Alliance: The Earth Defense Alliance from the Armada and Terra Firma games. It's real and has been active for decades.
  • And You Thought It Was a Game: The entire novel is based around certain popular video games actually being training simulations for an impending alien invasion. In a more specific example, the "Icebreaker" mission within the titular game is later revealed to have been actual attack on the alien base on Europa.
  • Arc Number: The number three shows up once again throughout the book, which is again divided into three sections. The invasion comes in three waves, Debbie has three sons, Moon Base Alpha has (initially) only three crew members. Zack, Debbie, and Whoadie are the final three survivors of the Moon base Alpha crew. There are also nine members of the Soldarity (once Humanity joins), which is three three times. Possibly a reference to most early video games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong having three lives.
  • Badass Gay: Shin and Milo.
  • Berserk Button: Saying bad things about his dad to Zack is a bad idea, as Douglas Knotcher finds out. Twice.
  • Bury Your Gays: Shin and Milo are some of the first casualties of the war
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: In the Battle of Crystal Palace, the EDA manages to destroy most of the attacking force with relative ease. But as their numbers dwindle, the drones become harder and harder to kill. The last one actually manages to evade everyone and damage a small area. This is because the alien machine controlling them has fewer distraction than controlling an armada of ships. This is also why the Glaive fighters behave like their video-game counterparts, because they're still being controlled through AI.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Alexis Larkin's hacking skills come in handy towards the end.
  • Disappeared Dad: Zack's dad died in an explosion in his workplace when Zack was less than an year old. Later in the book, he turns out to be alive but had a good reason for faking his death.
  • Escort Mission: Before being recruited, Zack participates in an Armada mission that involves protecting a Kill Sat, as it attempts to destroy the control base on the Sobrukai homeworld. The players complain at how ridiculously difficult the mission is, and, indeed, it ends in a failure. The attack was a real attempt at ending the threat of the Alien Invasion by destroying the drone-control center on Europa. The players were controlling real drones and didn't know it.
  • Fantastic Rank System: The ranks in the EDA appear to be based on US Air Force ranks, except for the fact that the supreme commander of EDA has the rank of admiral (above a general).
  • Foreshadowing: Early on, Zack mentions that due to the explosion that killed his father essentially vaporizing his body, his mom didn't have to go through the pain of having to pick out her husband's corpse in the morgue, and the settlement money that they got from suing the company his dad worked at left them with a lot of money to move into a new house, noting "how lucky can one family get?" It turns out that the cause of death is so there wouldn't be a body left over, because Zack's father is still alive. The huge amount of settlement money was due to the EDA giving them large sums of money so they'd still be financially well off even without him.
  • Game Breaker: In-universe example - the introduction of Disrupters in Armada is viewed as this by many of the players, since not even The Flying Circus is able to take one down
  • General Ripper: Admiral Archibald Vance aka Viper turns out to be one. He's still a good guy - he's just doing what he thinks is the right thing. Zack even lampshades this by calling him Dr. Strangelove. Subverted in the Epilogue, when he admits he was wrong.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Xavier Lightman does this multiple times. Also done by Viper, though he is rescued before he dies. Also, Chen upon hearing that his sister is most likely dead. The Disruptors appear to be specifically designed to be taken out with one of these.
  • Humongous Mecha: Both the EDA and the aliens have them. The human Sentinel mechs look like a typical bipedal kind and even have a cockpit for emergency manual control (they're normally controlled via quantum link). The alien mechs look like huge praying mantises.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: The technologies used to fight the invasion such as the QComm, Faster-Than-Light Travel are all reverse engineered from the alien drones
  • Inertial Dampening: EDA's aircrafts are equipped with these devices. They were reverse-engineered from captured alien drones.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Milo, while quoting Dr. Lazarus/Alexander Dane from Galaxy Quest.
    By Grabthar's hammer, you shall...
  • Kill Sat: One is present in a Nintendo Hard Armada mission, which involves an attempt at destroying the alien drone-control base. The mission is real and is also a failure. The Kill Sat is destroyed, but the EDA has another one. Zack manages to destroy it before it completes its task, which signals to the alien AI that humans are not mindless beasts.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Zack's friends sometimes call him that, as his Military Maverick tactics occasionally cause him to break formation and rush into battle. And yes, sometimes he screams the trope's name.
  • Mama Bear: Pamela Lightman - she tries to defend Zack with a baseball bat against alien drones.
  • Manly Tears: Xavier Lightman sheds some after Graham is killed by an alien Humongous Mecha.
  • Mecha-Mooks: Both the EDA and the aliens use various types of Attack Dones to do their fighting.
  • Militaries Are Useless: Conventional armed forces are helpless before the threat of the alien invasion, especially since the Disruptor scrambles Earth's magnetic field, rendering all our modern means of warfare (e.g. GPS, radio communications) useless. To top it off, alien weapons and defenses are vastly superior to any conventional military's. Even the EDA is largely rendered inert by the Disruptor removing the means of controlling human drones.
  • Military Maverick: Zack and Xavier Lightman are both this. Zack doesn't follow orders and breaks formation both while playing Armada in the beginning and while actually fighting against drones.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: In-universe. Zack wonders why if the Star Wars universe had Subspace Ansible technology, they didn't have remote control starfighters instead of putting actual pilots in danger.
  • MST3K Mantra: In-universe example: Zack looks past all the apparent Plot Holes in Armada and Terra Firma's story, but he becomes suspicious when the EDA claims everything was true.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The Battle of Crystal Palace would have ended with relatively little damage had Zack just followed orders.
  • Nintendo Hard: The introduction of Disrupters in Armada makes it almost impossible to win.
    • The mission to destroy the alien homeworld is also of this variety. The players complain about the mission being impossibly hard, since they are expected to protect the Kill Sat sent to melt the planet's ice cap and launch nukes at their base against waves of alien drones. The mission does indeed happen, and the reason it's so difficult is because they're controlling actual drones sent to take out the alien base on Europa.
  • Octopoid Aliens: The Sobrukai are a race of aliens resembling squids and the antagonists of the Fictional Video Game. They reside in an underwater base on another planet.
  • Oedipal Complex: Zack mentions that, growing up, he had the worst Oedipal complex ever because his mother was so attractive.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Three couples hook up a few hours before the invasion begins, despite just meeting one another, because they don't expect them (or humanity) to survive. Zack also wonders if Larkin is doing the same.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: EDA has developed technologies that can let people communicate from the other side of the galaxy, travel from the Moon to Jupiter in less than a day, etc. but it hasn't allowed them to go mainstream. They justify it by claiming that they didn't really perfect the reverse engineering of these alien technologies until very recently.
  • The Reveal: Not only is Zack's father still alive, he turns out to be a high-ranking member of the Earth Defense Alliance, and he's also RedJive, the highest ranking player in the Armada game.
  • Rite of Passage: The whole alien invasion turns out to be one for the humans. It is essentially a test administered by a group of aliens to see if humanity can overcome its animal instincts and become worthy of joining them. They have administered it to multiple other races as well and it is implied that some of them failed and were destroyed
  • Rule of Cool: Invoked twice in-universe. The EDA base in Nebraska is called The Crystal Palace and the Moon Base Alpha is nicknamed Thunderdome because "it has a dome, and we fight inside it, just like Mad Max. And because Thunderdome sounds cooler than Drone Operations Center".
  • Secret Test: The titular video game - among many others - is revealed to be a training simulation to identify potential EDA recruits and train the population at large to control defense drones. And on at least one occasion, gamers unknowingly take part in an actual mission against the alien invaders.
    • The "invasion" itself is a test to see if humanity is capable of overcoming its base instincts and is therefore worthing of joining the Soldarity.
  • Shout-Out: The book is overflowing with shoutouts to various games, bands, movies, and tv shows.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: A variation with Zack. He was born before his dad's death, but just barely. A more literal example with Xavier Jr., resulting from a single act of sex between the still-alive Xavier and Pamela before his real death.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Sobrukai from the Armada and Terra Firma games are squid-like creatures that were made up by Chaos Terrain to personify the alien threat. Some conspiracy theorists like Graham seem to actually believe this.
  • String Theory: Zack's father has a notebook full of data that is supposed to prove that the government is sponsoring all the alien related movies, videogames, etc. to familiarize people with the idea of aliens invading.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: It's mentioned multiple times that Zack is a near-exact likeness of his dead father, and he realizes how painful it must be for his mother to have to keep looking at someone who looks just like her late husband every morning, while he asks unending questions about him.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: The two Mikes are arguing about the coolest fictional melee weapon. Cruz prefers Bilbo's Sting while Diehl thinks Mjolnir is the best. Zack doesn't participate in the conversation, but mentions that Excalibur would be his choice.
  • Subspace Ansible: Quantum communication allows one to have real-time communication (including video) across half the galaxy. However, the aliens have developed the Disrupter to counter short-range communication (long-range is unaffected, since both ends of the link need to be within the Disrupter field for the jamming to work).
  • Suicide Attack: It is required to destroy a Disrupter.
  • Super Wrist-Gadget: The Q-Comms or Quantum Communicator devices given to EDA members can be used to contact anyone anywhere, control drones, and fire lasers.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Takes place in 2018, despite being published in 2015.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Zack's dad theorized that all alien invasion video games are actually an example of this. Turns out to be true.
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