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.”
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.
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?
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.
“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.
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.