Armada Chapter 8: Zack Is In The Secret Sci Fi Military Now

This chapter marks the start of Part 2 of the book, which is referred to in the book as Phase 2 (because alien invasions, which makes sense). This is probably more exciting if you’re actually reading the book, but less exciting when I’m like “and then I turned the page and it was Part 2 now!” Sorry you missed out on that.

Armada: Chapter 8

The chapter starts out with a fun joke and tease about what this book could have been in Zack were a person and not a collection of pop culture references:

We were at the edge of space. The boundary I’d dreamed of crossing my entire life. I’d never really believed I’d get the chance to do it during my lifetime— let alone today, when I should’ve been in my first-period civics class.

Zack also reveals some conflicted feelings towards Ray, doubting whether “Ray was [still] my boss and friend”, and wonders whether his mom has even been told the news and has a sinking feeling she’s “crazy with worry right now”. They arrive at the base, which is hidden in a nondescript farm in the middle of nowhere. And, as are the rules of Armada, has a stupid name.

“Welcome to Crystal Palace,” Ray said. “That’s the EDA’s code name for this place.”
“Why?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Because it’s easier to say than ‘Earth Defense Alliance Strategic Command Post Number Fourteen,’ ” he said. “Sounds cooler, too.”

parks and rec incorrect

While at the… (deep breath) Crystal Palace… Zack starts having some thoughts about the military-industrial complex. Sort of. It’s supposed to be about humanity and survival, but it’s not quite as uplifting as the book thinks its being:

I’d always assumed that our future would end up looking more like Mad Max than Star Trek. But now I was forced to see our rampant fossil fuel consumption— and our seeming disregard for its effect on our already-changing climate— in an entirely new light. We hadn’t used up all of our oil and ravaged our planet in a mindless pursuit of consumerism, but in preparation for a dark day that most of us hadn’t even known was coming. […]
It filled me with a strange new sense of pride in my own species. We weren’t a bunch of primitive monkeys teetering on the brink of self-destruction after all— this appeared to be an altogether different kind of destruction we were teetering on the brink of.

…eeeeexcept that this was all done in secret, so humanity as a whole was using limited resources with complete disregard for the long term? Much like, you know, is what’s happening not in Armada, which you just pointed out is limping towards a Mad Max future? Thanks for that fun reminder, book. But no, by all means, tell me how it’s actually reassuring that the planet is being destroyed.

shaun of the dead thank god for that

Zack asks Ray what happens if he doesn’t want to enlist in the secret sci fi army, like anyone reading this book believes that for a second. This conversation doesn’t matter because, seriously, if you’ve been reading this book, this is wholly unnecessary.

Ray takes Zack to the equipment specialist who is so obviously this book’s analogue of Q from the James Bond films that there’s even a line of dialogue where he explains, “I’m sort of like Q in the James Bond films”. Ernest Cline’s writing, everybody.

“This is your QComm,” he explained. “It’s a Quantum Communicator— basically a smartphone with unlimited range. It will work anywhere in the world— or in outer space.” He smiled. “They also have insanely fast Internet access and Bluetooth capability. I already imported all of your contacts, photos, and music from your iPhone, so you’re all set up.”

Oh, well, thank god the secret government project working to save the planet from a hostile alien invasion made sure Zack could sync his military equipment with iTunes. Speaking of priorities, they explain that this fancy device can also – iiiiiiit’s Armada – play video games.

It was hinged along one side, like a flip phone, and it opened up into what looked like a portable gaming device, with another display screen on top and a game controller beneath it, with two thumb-pads and six lettered buttons.
“What, can I play Sonic the Hedgehog on this thing, too?”
“Actually, yes,” Foyle said. “Your QComm also doubles as a portable drone-control platform.”

Sure, they need these things to control drones, but who the fuck in the US Department of Stopping a Hostile Alien Invasion is programming emulators for their top secret government equipment?

parks and rec work for the government
This kind of seems like… not the book’s opinion so far…

To be totally fair, I have to admit that I got a good laugh at this joke:

“I already imported all of your contacts, photos, and music from your iPhone, so you’re all set up.”
I pulled my iPhone from the front pocket of my jeans. It still had no signal, and the battery was about to die. “How the hell were you able to do that?”

(Update: A friend of mine read this post and made a very good point that, “I don’t think this is a joke. I think the reader is supposed to genuinely marvel at that.” I honestly don’t know with Armada.)

But to be even more fair, this section also makes me worry that Zack might be a psychopath. Even more so than the story we’ve already been told about how other kids think he’s a psychopath. This one-ups a story designed to do that, on terrifying accident:

“Each one also has a built-in weirding module. […] You will be able to paralyze nerves, shatter bones, set fires, suffocate and enemy, or burst his organs.”
I laughed out loud.

nope

“There were no weirding modules in the original Dune books, you know,” Ray muttered, shaking his head.

OH OKAY COOL IT WAS JUST A SCI FI REFERENCE. NOW IT’S TOTALLY OK THAT ZACK LAUGHED WHEN HE LEARNED HE’D BEEN GIVEN A WEAPON THAT CAN MAKE PEOPLE’S ORGANS EXPLODE. TOTALLY OK.

gunshow by kc green

Anyway, ready to meet a character even more irritating than Zack?

“Lieutenant Lightman?” a male voice called out. […] “Captain Arjang Dagh, at your service. I’m a huge fan of your work, Lieutenant!”
“My work?” I repeated […]
“The two of us have flown dozens of missions together over the years, so you might recognize my call sign.” He put out his hand. I shook his hand as firmly as I could. “I’m Rostam.”
My smile faltered

It’s the guy ranked higher in Armada than Zack who messages every player “You’re welcome” after he shoots them down! Somehow! That sounds exhausting and like it would interfere with being able to play the game, but this is important I guess. 

What’s also notable is that Arjang is younger than Zack! So, basically, this is gonna be a bunch of kids commanding spacefights against aliens. How is this book different from Ender’s Game again?

Ray cleared his throat impatiently […]
“Chillax, Sergeant,” Dagh said. “The grownups are talking.”

Oh, it’s Ender’s Game, but if the kids were still allowed to be kids instead of being coldly molded into unfeeling soldiers. Good job, Armada. You managed to find a way to make that theme sound like a better idea.

Once Arjang leaves, Zack asks Ray how come Arjang had been recruited when he was fifteen, but Zack was only just being brought in now at eighteen. Ray points out that “Your psych profile indicated you weren’t suitable for early recruitment”, and straight up tells Zack not to “play dumb” when he asks what that means. Guys? I… I might miss Ray.

“When will I see you again?”
“I’m not sure, pal,” he said, meeting my gaze. “Things are happening very fast now. I’m departing on a shuttle in just a few minutes [to New York]. I’m one of the Thirty Dozen, remember? […] Take care of yourself for me, okay?”

And Ray’s a father figure character in one of Ernest Cline’s sci fi-reference heavy novels, so he can’t say goodbye without saying something like…

“The Force will be with you,” Ray said, giving my shoulder one last squeeze. “Always.”

Aaaand now I’ve forgotten most of what made Ray a character.

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7 comments

  1. wordswithhannah

    For real, did this get published solely because of the success of Ready Player One? If any random Joe off the street submitted this to a publisher, I have to imagine that it would be sent back with the note “Ender’s Game already exists.”

    That paragraph about fossil fuels blah blah shows a glimpse of what this book could have been: a re-interpretation of EG through our current political lens. People inevitably view the concepts of “foreign invaders” and the US’s military complex much, much differently than they did in 1985. What if the situation paralleled the Iraq war, or the occupation of Afghanistan? What are Zach’s feelings about being press-ganged into a conflict that’s not of his making/choosing? Is his eagerness to join up the result of being coldly manipulated by a higher power who doesn’t actually care about his well-being, but instead sees him as an expendable red shirt (see, I can make nerdy references too!!!)? Will he ever doubt the rightness of this mission? In so closely following the plot of a book whose author is still alive, Cline would have benefited from going in a different direction with the philosophy, especially since Card’s own personal views are at odds with a lot of younger readers.

    (Granted, I know literally nothing about Cline, so perhaps he, too, thinks that gay people should stop being so gay if they want to be taken seriously.)

    (Of course, I haven’t read this book, either, so maybe he’ll pull out all the stops and grapple with the ramifications of war later in the book. I’m not holding out hope for this, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised before.)

    I guess someone read it and yelled “Brilliant! I’ve been saying for years that Card needed to shoe-horn in eight million pop culture references and then it would have been perfect! Here’s the answer!”

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    • matthewjulius Post author

      To be fair, Zack isn’t totally gung ho about joining the military, but he’s super inconsistent about it. (In this chapter alone he keeps pointing out he hasn’t decided to enlist yet, but also asks why they didn’t recruit him sooner.)

      If you’re upset that it only briefly touched on actually interesting sociopolitical commentary and then totally abandoned it forever, you will probably not like Ready Player One much either

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      • wordswithhannah

        The thing is, the US military actually is using video games/alien invasion rhetoric as a marketing tool. The US Army sponsored promotional material for the Independence Day remake that gives army recruiters access to all your information if you signed up for their “Earth Defense League” game. This isn’t even that far of a stretch!

        I’ve been brainstorming how I’d write this book from this point, and here’s what I’ve decided: to put a twist on the “chosen white boy saves the world” narrative, I’d make his dad actually dead. Beyond that, his dad actually had nothing to do with the conspiracy. Instead, Zach gets duped into signing up because he’s a socially maladjusted loner who’s been manipulated from the start by Ray. “We’ve been waiting for you,” they say. “You’re the one who will turn the tide in this war.”

        So Zach says “I knew it! I knew Dad was on to something! I’ll make him proud!” and gets on the ship. There, he gets punted into a mass of recruits who all have very…similar stories. “Oh, another Ray recruit,” says one. “So your dad knew all along? Yeah, so did my sister,” says another. And day by day, more teenagers keep appearing…while some never come back.

        Meanwhile, Zach is shown all kinds of propaganda films about the aliens and the atrocities they’ve inflicted upon the solar system. Naturally, having grown up in the era of the internet where everything can be faked, cleverly edited, staged, or a combination of those, Zach asks what the aliens’ side of the story is. His commanding officer gives him a cold look and says, “They don’t have one.”

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        • matthewjulius Post author

          Oh my god, please keep the last thing you said in mind when you see next Friday’s chapter

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  2. Bellomy

    Where does Ray ranks on the scale of “Great characters in shitty books?” Because the very top of my scale will always be Haymitch in the last two Hunger Games books, who made them readable practically singlehandedly with his pure awesome.

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    • matthewjulius Post author

      ooooo Haymitch is a perfect choice for that! I would say that Ray is… nowhere near the top of this list. He’s still incredibly boring and speaks exclusively in pop culture references. I honestly can’t think of anything interesting about him. He’s determined to save the planet from an alien invasion? That sounds like a noteworthy quality, but who the fuck WOULDN’T be in that scenario?

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  3. Jeremy Coward

    Ahem – Crystal Palace is actually the name of a bit of London. Has a football team and everything. Deeply offended.

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