Armada Chapter 4: Zack’s Mom Is Super Hot

Before we dive into today’s chapter, there’s one thing from yesterday’s infodump chapter that I’d like to draw extra attention to, because it’s one thing in particular that drives me insane about Ernest Cline’s writing/mainstream geek culture as a whole. Let’s see if you can guess what it is:

[G]aming legends like Chris Roberts, Richard Garriott, Hidetaka Miyazaki, Gabe Newell, and Shigeru Miyamoto had all wound up as consultants on both Terra Firma and Armada – along with several big Hollywood filmmakers, including James Caermon [and] Peter Jackson

I’ll give you a hint:

congrats you have an all male panel

AND THIS DOESN’T EVEN ADD ANYTHING TO THE STORY. You just referenced a shitton of men you like and didn’t even incorporate them into the story in a meaningful way! It’s just fanfiction of, like, real people. Why do we give a fuck about their names being mentioned when the book spends no imagination on why these people would be involved or what they would add? So not only is this writing lazy and sexist, but it’s boring as shit because this didn’t tell the reader anything. Just that the author likes the same dudes most of the world likes.

And Gabe Newell has made like one video game this decade. Half-Life 3 is never coming out. Calm down.

Armada: Chapter 4

After spending the first three chapters seeing video game spaceships in the sky and reading his dad’s old video game conspiracy theories and working at the local video game store, Zack comes home and has a chat with his mom who is super into video games. Armada is not subtle.

We learn that Zack’s mom is a nurse who’s been working a lot of overtime lately, and he’s kind of nervous because she can always tell when he’s upset, which is a problem since he’s worried he’s either schizophrenic or has discovered a spaceship. Or, in wacky Zack lingo:

When I was younger, I was convinced she possessed some sort of mutant maternal telepathy that allowed her to read my mind

Classic wacky Zack!

i like being weird
You could replace every other line of dialogue in Armada with this and it would basically be the same book.

Let’s learn a little more about Zack’s mom.

Few young men know the Oedipal torment of growing up with an insanely hot, perpetually single mom.

Let’s learn literally anything else about Zack’s mom.

She reminded me a lot of Sarah Connor or Ellen Ripley – sure, she might have a few issues, but she was also the kind of mom who would strap on heavy artillery and mow down killer cyborgs, if that was what it took to protect her offspring.

Hm. How convenient that Zack’s mom reminds him of some of the most iconic female characters in science fiction. That’d have been so embarrassing if we had to learn about Zack’s mom through something that wasn’t a sci fi reference.

ellen ripley i can handle myself
To be fair, Ripley is a super awesome character and I fucking LOVE what she does in Aliens, but there’s something unsettling about this whole “so it’s a good thing my mom is like her!” thing

Here’s the other relevant information:

  • Men constantly throw themselves at Zack’s mom because of her looks all his life, which has left him “faintly disgusted by my own gender”. Yeah, I bet that’d be a pretty traumatizing childhood. Stay woke, Zack.
  • Zack suspects that she’s not entirely over his dead father, because while she’d dated occasionally, she’s always ended things when they started getting serious.
  • His maternal grandparents disowned her after she got pregnant out of wedlock with her high school boyfriend, and then tried to reconnect by “telling my mom his death was a ‘blessing in disguise'”. So I don’t think we’re meeting Zack’s grandparents in this book.

Oh, and it’s an Ernest Cline novel and this is one of the characters we’re supposed to like, so she’s super into mainstream geek culture.

“You shall not pass!” she declared, stomping her foot down theatrically on the carpet. “Your vice principal called me a little while ago.”

The day they figure out how to put GIFs into books will be the greatest day of Ernest Cline’s life.


Zack’s mom asked him why he ditched class early and tried to pick a fight with Douglas Knotcher. She agrees with his explanation in, like, half a page. Although I kinda can’t argue with her not wanting to fight this one:

“Okay, kiddo,” she said, hugging me. “I know it isn’t easy being stuck in that zoo. Just tough it out for a few more months and then you’ll be free.”

Although there’s something a little more ominous than high school angst going on here.

I could see that she was thinking about the Incident. The Incident that I’d just promised her, for the thousandth time, would never happen again.

Jesus, this Incident keeps getting referenced a lot. Is this book ever just going to be like, “Here’s what it is!”

Here’s what would never happen again:

Oh. Ok. Just like that, huh?

Zack explains that the Incident happened in seventh grade when Knotcher tried to tease him about his dead dad (“Is it true your old man was dumb enough to die in a shit-factory explosion?”), but backfired when, instead of feeling sad, Zack beat the ever-loving shit out of him.

The next thing I remember, I was sitting on Knotcher’s chest, staring down at his motionless, blood-drenched face […] Afterward, they said I attacked him “like a wild animal” and beat him unconscious. [He] spent a week in the hospital recovering from a mild concussion and a fractured jaw.

Zack has wondered since then what would have happened if no one had been there to stop him. I wonder if this is going to be relevant later when he goes to war against aliens. No, seriously. This is an Ernest Cline novel. Ready Player One had a scene where the main character bought a gun and then it never appeared again, and there’s literally a whole literary device named after not doing that. Who knows.

Anyway, this all leads into a conversation about what Zack wants to do with his future, which is the required character motivation of every story about a high school senior ever. It comes complete with lines like “I don’t care what you do, as long as you do something”, so it’s really not being subtle with its themes. It is also – you guessed it – full o’ pop culture references.

“Well, I have thought about this quite a bit, and after careful consideration, I’ve decided that I don’t want to buy anything, sell anything, or process anything.”
She frowned and began to shake her head in protest […] “Who do you think you’re messing with?”

Armada doesn’t even tell us what this is from, and I didn’t know. Which on top of everything else is a problem, because:

  1. I knew most of the references until this one, so who is this for? By extension, we have to ask this: is this book not for people who don’t know the copy/pasted references and therefore don’t know what’s going on?
  2. I had to look up where it was from. It’s from Say Anything, which I realized has been on my to-watch list for years now. And then I realized that Armada had made me spend a solid minute thinking about a thing that was not Armada. It should be obvious why this is a bad way to try to get people engrossed in your story.

We also learn that Zack’s dad’s “was so badly burned in the explosion” that his mom wasn’t brought in to identify the body. This is wildly shoehorned into the narration out of pretty much nowhere, so how many chapters do you think it’ll be until the surprise reveal that Zack’s dad is actually alive?



  1. wordswithhannah Reply

    First off, what a random assortment of names. You’d think it would be incredibly notable for a collaboration between just two well-known game developers; all of them together would cause a sensation. I mean…Valve and Nintendo? People would literally die. It would not be some odd niche production. It would be so mainstream that people like Zack would shun it the second they beat it.

    Secondly, if you can imagine James Cameron sharing credit on a major smash motion picture at this stage in his career, you are wildly more creative than I am.

    Finally, while I know people who reference movie quotes in conversation, I don’t know that many who actually carry on conversations in movie/media quotes. Is Zack supposed to be autistic? Is this ever addressed? Because that interpretation makes the most sense to me.

    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      Yeah, I wanted to be concise, but I could have kept going about the gratuitous, all-male, big name shitshow. I mean, actually THINK about those developers. Why on earth would Miyamoto want to work on a sci fi shoot-’em-up? Even if he did, what on earth would he BRING to that? Miyamoto’s interests from Mario to Zelda to Pikmin are all about environmental exploration and puzzles. When I think Miyamoto, I don’t think alien marine combat. This whole Armada video game developer dreamteam concept is just a poorly thought-out wankfest.

      I’m sure this isn’t the last time we’re gonna talk about references and their value in books on the blog (since we’re going back to House of Night eventually), but I definitely want to try to get at the point you make. Just because people talk in references in real life, it doesn’t mean that necessarily works in books. It’s fun to try to pick apart why that is, though, so I’m fine that I couldn’t quite get at all of it in one chapter.


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