Armada Chapter 12: Zack F***s Up

Armada: Chapter 12

The battle of Crystal Palace, as it came to be known,

Well, great, now we know that the story doesn’t abruptly end in the middle of the book.

was my first taste of real life-or-death combat. Even though I wasn’t physically inside my Interceptor, my body was only a few hundred yards away

You know, I can appreciate that it’s a bit of a struggle for Armada to convey life-or-death stakes when the entire premise is “what if you were playing a video game, but the video game was A REAL WAR GOING ON SOMEWHERE ELSE”. (aka totally not Ender’s Game, why would you think that)

Zack prepares to pilot his drone and learns that all of his settings from the Armada video game have already been transferred to the real thing. There’s almost a nice, humanizing moment that really drives this point home where Zack realizes that his goofy autopilot voice is suddenly wildly inappropriate. But it’s Armada, sooooo unnecessary name drops!

I switched it back to the default female [voice], which – fun fact – had been recorded by the actress Candice Bergen.

How is this a fun fact? I’m reading a book. Why would I give a shit about the real person I’m supposed to be imagining in this fictional story?


boston legal candice bergen
This is Candice Bergen! She was great on Boston Legal! Hopefully that makes you enjoy reading Armada more for some reason?

The chapter is mostly a description of a fight scene, and it’s fine. Zack flies a plane and shoots stuff and he’s super good at shooting stuff and not getting shot in turn. This is not a particularly interesting thing to summarize, I’ll admit. This one’s on us.

Zack continues to observe that something’s really weird about the entire premise of this book:

I’d executed this maneuver hundreds of times in simulated Armada dogfights, and if I got the timing just right, it always worked like a charm, because the enemy ships reacted to it the same way every single time – the way videogame enemies often tend to do.
But why would the same tactics work now, in the real world? If these were real alien attack drones, under the control of sentient beings living in the subsurface oceans of Europa, half a billion kilometers away, why would they fly and fight exactly like their videogame counterparts?

Look, Armada. I get that it’s not easy to hint at something being awry giving basically just telling the reader, “Hey! Something’s awry! Wait for it!” But there’s definitely more organic, less obvious ways to do it than constant infodump swaths of exposition. I mean, this particular rant isn’t even over yet.

How could Chaos Terrain have been able to simulate the enemy’s maneuvers and tactics with such a high level of precision and accuracy?

Zaaaaack, shush, have some subtlety, for chrissakes. But to my p-

Like many fictional alien bad guys, the Sobrukai fighters I’d faced off against in Armada had always suffered fform Stormtrooper Syndrome. They couldn’t aim for shit, and they were way too easy to kill. But those had been fictional aliens in a videogame. These were real extraterrestrial ships in a real-life battle. So why did the same tactics work?


Ok, but, really. Why couldn’t this hint have been conveyed more naturally, with, say, dialogue? Maybe Zack voices his confusion and suspicions to someone else, like his angsty rebellious ladyfriend? She seems like someone who’d be very receptive to his conspiracies! Hell, make this a dialogue, and then you can even downplay how obvious this foreshadowing is by offering very logical counterarguments, like how Zack’s… actually totally leaping to conclusions by assuming the aliens are also remotely piloted and aren’t just AI. Why is that necessarily ruled out as a possibility, Armada? WHAT’S THE REAL CONSPIRACY?

aliens guy history channel
I’m sorry. This joke was too easy.

Suddenly, the battle escalates when some of the alien ships unexpectedly turn into giant robots and start wrecking havoc on the ground, destroying power lines and tearing apart the outside of the base. Not that it matters, because the battle ultimately hinges on something completely unrelated.

[The ships] intended to make a final kamikaze run into the base, through the open mouths of [our] drone launch tunnels. The simulated alien invaders in Armada had never tried this move. How had the rocket scientists who designed this base not seen this massive hole in its defense?

Oh no! If only there were a special, uniquely talented character who could handle this all on his own!

Luckily, I happened to be there to save the day.

Oh thank god.

Admiral Vance issues an order to all pilots to not pursue the ship into the launch tunnels, but Zack turns off his communications. For some reason. I am still not sure why we’re supposed to be rooting for Zack, to be honest. His endearingly inflated self-confidence?

I wasn’t willing to take that risk

For a character who’s bending over backwards to explain to the reader that this is totally, totally real and not a video game anymore… he’s definitely not acting like it.

Zack chases it through the launch tunnel into the based, but isn’t able to stop it before it’s able to blow up in a hanger of brand new drones.

Parks and Recreation Oh Fuck

Remember what I was saying in the chapter where Zack played Armada that it seemed kind of like everyone in the game was lone wolfing their way through the fight instead of bothering with tactics and teamwork? And that that was dumb? It’s almost like… that was a valid criticism of this entire plot…

The battle over and his drone destroyed, Zack’s control station shuts down.

I don’t know how long I sat there in the pitch-black darkness, listening to the aftermath of my mistake.

Speaking of mistakes, it’s a good time for the love interest to show up!

“Did you see what happened?” She said, shaking her head. “Some moron Interceptor pilot chased that last Glaive Fighter into one of the launch tunnels, right before the whole hangar went up. […] We’d already won,” she said. “We’d just destroyed all but one of their drones”

Lex immediately figures out that Zack fucked up.

“Didn’t you hear Admiral Vance screaming at you to break off over the comlink? Everyone else sure did!”
She pursed her lips and gave me two thumbs-up.

Is she being ironic or quirky? I honestly can’t tell with this character.

Zack gets summoned to report to Admiral Vance. Don’t worry about lasting consequences. Zack’s important.


1 Comment

  1. Bellomy Reply

    The problem here is – and let’s just say it and get it over with – the premise is really fucking stupid. Video games and battles are not the same thing. Any attempts you make to try and make video game skills match up to combat skills are inevitably going to seem somewhat bullshit.

    Want to know why “Ender’s Game” worked?

    Because the entire point of the game was, first, to be a training exercise for the real war…and then later, it just IS the real war, but Ender isn’t just thrown in. They start him out in relatively easy battles with a mentor present and then slowly scale things up as Ender learns more and more.

    This just makes no sense, and I know we’re supposed to get that, more or less, but no matter what you come up with now it’s inevitably going to look like an excuse for your premise to work, since that’s, let’s face it, exactly what it is.

    It’s just not a good concept. The only real way you can play this is as pure parody – like “Galaxy Quest”. Try and make us take this shit seriously and it just doesn’t work.


Leave a Reply