Armada Chapter 20: Characters We Barely Know Get Killed Off

Armada: Chapter 20

The first real outer space dogfight is finally here! And to think we only had to read three-fourths of a book about video games secretly training the population about outer space dogfights to get here!


Zack, his dad, the two other EDA agents, and the four other new recruits are all flying their drone spaceships towards the advancing army. It is unclear if it’s just those eight. Despite how this entire war is going to play out via people remotely controlling drone spaceships and shit and that’s the whole book, it’s unclear if anybody on earth can participate in this fight (at least the ships – we know because of Lex that some people are earth are controlling some mechs at least) while they’re waiting to fight the alien ships that make it to earth. Just, like, one mention of this, Armada. I’m not asking for much, just the premise of the book.

“Well, hello there!” I heard my father say over the comm. “This is General Xavier Lightman of the Earth Defense Alliance. Where do you assholes think you’re headed?” After a pause, he added: “Klaatu barada nikto, fellas.”

Who the fuck put any of these guys in charge of this? Are they actually talking to the aliens?

This is kind of an important question, because the last thing Zack’s dad does is whistle the five-note tune from the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind which the aliens put at the end of all their messages. Zack’s convinced it’s “perhaps taking his own stab at some gallows humor” (shut up, Zack), but if the aliens are hearing this (somehow… are we all on the same… frequency? THIS ISN’T EXPLAINED.) and based on what we know about how Zack’s dad doesn’t think the aliens are really hostile, isn’t this kind of a last-ditch attempt to tell them he knows something’s up? It’s surprisingly poetic for Armada. Or would be if I weren’t pretty sure we’re just supposed to be on board with whatever Zack says. Ugh. Zack.

The space fight begins. Zack finds himself almost enjoying the simplicity of combat instead of worrying about whatever the themes of this book were supposed to be.

I was passing through the cloud of arcing, swooping Glaive Fighters, evading their laser and plasma fire, which I did reflexively, almost without thinking— and I smiled because everything had become clear once again, now that I was finally facing off against my true enemy. The doubt and uncertainty my father had planted in my mind were gone. So was the lead ball of fear in my gut. Now, all that remained was primal, territorial rage, and the clear sense of purpose that came with it.
Kill or be killed. Conquer or be conquered. Survive or go extinct.
These were not difficult decisions.


But Zack can’t help but shake the plot hole that’s actually the plot:

For a few seconds, it felt just like playing Armada back home.
Why would real aliens behave exactly like videogame simulations of themselves?

And yet Zack thinks his dad’s gone off the deep end for also having an idea about how the aliens might not be what they seem. You tell me how this is supposed to make sense.

Zack comes to terms with the inevitable: they’re losing ships fast, and they’re only going to make a tiny, tiny dent in the fleet before it reaches earth. The alien fleet splits up: half going to earth and half going to the moon, where the moon base is… for some fucking reason.

The exterior of the base was crawling with enemy drones [and an] explosion erupted and crackled across the shield’s transparent surface […] briefly lighting up the darkened Thunderdome.

So I guess we’re supposed to assume that sometime before the events of Armada, this conversation must have happened: “We finished making secret drone-control bases hidden underneath the surface of the earth.” “Fantastic! Now we need to put one on the moon, even though they’re all remotely-controlled drones, but apparently this is strategically important.” “Should we hide it underground as well?” “Nah, just put that one right on the surface.” “This makes sense.”


The aliens breach the hangar, and the gang switches from spaceships to turrets to try to hold them off. That doesn’t work and they get inside the base, so they switch over to the humanoid ATHID war drones, which also immediately goes terribly. Zack’s dad gives the order to abandon stations and evacuate the base, but Ernest Cline has some minor characters to kill off so it seems like things are actually happening in this story.

When he saw that Shin wasn’t leaving, Milo jumped back into his own pod, saying, “Shin and I will hold them off; then we’ll catch up with you!” My father opened his mouth to protest, but another explosion shook the base, cutting him off. […]
“You’re already wasting seconds, General,” Shin said. “Milo and I can hold them off a lot longer than the automated sentry systems. But if you don’t leave now, you’ll never make it!”

It’s almost like… there was no strategic value in having this base on the moon… and putting your best pilots there… when the drones can be controlled from anywhere…

The gang makes it to an escape shuttle (that will take them… elsewhere? Fucking who cares. I still don’t get why they’re on the moon in the first place.). Milo makes his last requests over the comm system in the moments before the base gets completely overrun.

“Hey, do me a favor, too, will you guys?” Milo added. “After we win this war, tell everyone back home in Philly that my last request was to have my old high school named after me, okay? My mom went there, too, and I think she’ll really like that. You hear me?”

Aw, that’s a rather touching note for this book’s most irritating character to go out on!

“Thanks, man!” he replied. “Kushmaster High School. I love it!” He laughed maniacally again

Never mind.

“Oh wait! One other thing! Tell them to erect a bronze statue of me in downtown Philly! Just like the one they made for Rocky! But make mine bigger than his, okay?”

Okay, Milo, please stop. You are using your last moments to remind me that all we know about your character is that your one character trait is self-centeredness. At least Shin has the grace to go out the way he lived: not contributing to the story.

“Come get some!” I heard Milo shouting, his voice strangely gleeful. I could hear the sound of him rapidly firing his QComm’s wrist laser. “Who wants some? From hell’s heart I stab at thee, assholes! By Grabthar’s hammer, you shall—”
Milo’s voice was drowned out by another series of massive explosions, followed by what sounded like a hailstorm of incoming enemy laser fire

It’s pretty fitting that Milo’s last words aren’t even from an 80s sci fi movie as per Ernest Cline’s oeuvre, but from a 1999 movie parodying the genre that Ernest Cline’s novels can only shallowly imitate. I mean, even in its original context in Galaxy Quest, “By Grabthar’s hammer” was a sardonic joke about the trappings of sci fi, so… was this supposed to be a funny death? Does Armada know what “self-awareness” is?

This is also my face when reading this book, incidentally.


  1. Anne Reply

    The worst thing about killing Milo and Shin was that they were (so far at least), the only confirmed gay couple in the story and we were only told they were gay a chapter ago. I would be more angry about this if they had been interesting characters instead of one of the group of red shirts (It surprises me that Milo and Shin weren’t wearing red, just so that Zack could make a comment about it. Cline really missed that opportunity) that hang out with Zack’s dad , who are all such minor characters that I think most of them will be gone by the end of the novel.

    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      Yeah the scant diversity in this novel gets killed off pretty fast. Just wait until next week.

  2. Anonymous Reply

    How dare this book quote Galaxy Quest. It doesn’t deserve to make that reference.


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