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Literature / Armada

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Prepare to enter the DANGER ZONE!

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:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Takes place in 2018, despite being published in 2015.
  • 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.
  • Ambiguously Evil: While the Emissary claims that the various worlds that make up the Sodality are peaceful in nature and provide aid to Earth after they pass their test - changing Earth’s overall quality of life for the better - this was only after their test nearly led to the extermination of their species (and even still most likely traumatized the entire human race in the process). The Sodality went on to say that they plan on testing Earth at some point in the future, and they are denied a lot of key information on their tests and other privileges under the assumption that mankind are not ready and that their primitive little minds could not comprehend any of it. Even Zack, who has agreed to be Earth's ambassador to the Sodality after making the decision that save the Earth, admits that he does not trust any of it in the slightest. Granted, they are aliens, so this can be equated to a measure of Blue-and-Orange Morality.
  • AM/FM Characterization: Xavier Lightman's "Raid the Arcade" mixtape is Zack's go-to gaming playlist, nicely showcasing his obsession with the father he never knew and the culture his father lived in. In the book's climax, Xavier blasts Run DMC over loudspeakers purely because he knows Vance hates it enough to let it throw him off his balance, contrasting Xavier and Vance's views on authority.
  • 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.
  • Artificial Intelligence: The Emissary is a vastly intelligent mechanical icosahedron sent by the Sodality to properly assess mankind’s candidacy into the Sodality after discovering mankind through transmissions. It drew the swastika into Europa’s surface to see how they would react and created the drones sent to attack Earth.
  • Battle Couple: Shin and Milo. They die in battle together.
  • Berserk Button: Saying bad things about his dad to Zack is a bad idea, as Douglas Knotcher finds out. Twice.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The EDA knows pretty much everything about Zack. A relatively benign example as this has been at least partly to allow Zack's father to watch him grow up after having his death faked. Part of the plot in Act II centers around finding corners of Moon Base Alpha where the EDA can't see what is going on so characters can talk in private.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: An EDA shuttle lands in front of Zack's high school to pick him up and take him to Crystal Palace.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Alexis Larkin's hacking skills come in handy towards the end.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fridge Logic: In-Universe example: The Back Story for Terra Firma and Armada requires Willing Suspension of Disbelief, which Zack admits is fine and dandy for a video game. The fact that the Real Life situation requires the very same suspension of disbelief due to the numerous plot holes leads him and others to realize something is very wrong.
  • 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.
  • Gay Guy Dies First: Shin and Milo are some of the first casualties of the war, meaning that not a single non-straight character survives the book.
  • 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.
  • Hero of Another Story: Lex fills this role rather nicely. While she is Zack's Love Interest, she spends most of the book after her introduction in Montana, giving Zack a remote assist from time to time. Between her first and second appearance, she gets a Field Promotion.
    • Douglas Knotcher might be one as well. After appearing once at the beginning, he shows up at the end having undergone somewhat of a personality shift after enlisting in the EDA and losing an arm and both legs in battle.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: It is revealed that the invasion was not an unprovoked attack, but rather is was caused by President Richard Nixon who, after seeing the swastika and presuming this meant that the mysterious life on Europa was an unambiguous threat, tried nuking it. The Emissary goes on to explain that its drones were programmed to behave as a mirror to those that interact with them and that they only attacked because they were attacked first in response, thus placing all of the blame on mankind. To twist the knife further, the Emissary claims that the other species that have taken the test had significantly lower loss of life because their reactions were less severe.
  • 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 and 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.
  • Love Interest: Lex. Interestingly enough, she spends most of the plot separate from Zack, helping him remotely several times but mostly fighting elsewhere.
  • 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 Drones to do their fighting.
  • Mildly Military: The EDA leans this way due to its long history with the geek culture. The crew of Moon Base Alpha is this in spades.
  • 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.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Tens of millions of people are killed in the fighting during the first wave alone. After Zack passes the secret test on behalf of humanity, the aliens tell him not to grieve too heavily for the cost of passing the test, as the cost of failing the test would have been the extermination of the human race. Zack, understandably, doesn't like this one bit.
  • 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. Zack is horrified to realize that he was unable to reach either of his parents before the second wave because they were doing the same thing.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Admiral Vance chews Zack out over a costly mistake when Zack disregarded orders at a key point in the first battle. Zack argues that his actions made sense given his incomplete knowledge of the base's defenses. Admiral Vance concedes the point and lets him off with a warning. Ironically, the book's climax hinges on Vance's stubborn refusal to reconsider the aliens' actions, leading to Xavier's death trying to stop him from dooming humanity.
  • Red Herring: The three waves of the Europan attack. The first wave takes up much of the book's runtime, but the plot is resolved early into the second wave. The third wave never comes into play.
  • Red Shirt Army: Pretty much all of the un-named characters, especially the conventional armed forces, who take an active role fighting against the first wave, but are badly outclassed tech-wise. The EDA's drone operators don't do much better, but have the saving grace that they can usually respawn. Several EDA pilots show up flying manned interceptors to help at one point, but don't last much longer than anyone else due to the heavy odds.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: The book is overflowing with shout-outs 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.
  • 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.
  • Too Unhappy to Be Hungry: Zack refuses to partake in the pre-battle feast with his comrades because he feels that if he's going to die, he wants his last meal to be the breakfast that his mother made for him that morning.
  • 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.