Could we have a moment of silence for my love of pop culture references? Thank you.
E.'s Love of Pop Culture References - 1986-2015. R.I.P. (I was born in 1980, but I didn't truly flip my shit over something until the Howard the Duck movie came out in '86. I'm sure there will be several uber nerds who will claim that that's why I didn't "get" this novel, because I wasn't born wearing a Star Trek uniform.)
Ernest Cline is, quite simply, the Stephenie Meyers of science fiction. Horrible writer finds niche and milks it for everything it's worth because dollah, dollah bills, y'all! His next book will likely be a fantasy epic concerning a young wizard who flies around with a trio of dragons looking for a magical cube that can turn sex toys into shape-shifting robots. Young Wizard finds out his parents didn't actually die shortly after his birth; they traveled forward in time to join the Nazis. Young Wizard must team up with whimsical and witty man in a bow tie and a talking lion named Jesus in order to alter the course of Shia Labeouf's career. Am I close yet, Cline? Huh? Am I?
I will not spend the duration of this review explaining the extremity of my nerdom. I will not bore you with my likes and dislikes. I will say that I consider myself a nerd. That is the main reason I requested this book from Crown Publishing in return for an honest review. At this time, I would like to express my deepest condolences. I kinda feel like a serial killer apologizing to the parents of my victim, but you had to have known this was going to happen. I only assume that someone at your company read this book before accepting it for publication. Then again, maybe not. Let's be honest. You knew it would sell, and it will continue to sell long after this review is posted. Everyone LOVEDReady Player One, and WE the masses love supporting new favorite things. I know I will be tossed in the troll pile. I know I will be looked down upon by the Gods of Nerdom as some internet rage machine hellbent on funneling my derision into someone who's living the dream by stealing other people's dreams. Fuck everybody who thinks that. This book is fucking terrible.
Armada hopes to win you over with a metric-fuck-tonne (if I'm using the metric system, I must use the Queen's English - tonne instead of ton, it is then) of pop culture references. In the first third of the book, Cline describes everything using these references. Everything. This is like that and that is like this. Nothing wrong with that. Not in my mind, anyway. I became worried when I noticed that the book wasn't just full of pop culture references, it was one big pop culture reference. I started making predictions. Those predictions came true time and time again. In fact, I was never wrong. Why? Because this book is everything else. It was designed to sell strictly on your love of other things. You're not going to like this book for its plot or characters. You're going to like this book because it's comforting. You'll be able to point at everything and say, "Hey, I know that reference!" This novel is the literary equivalent of a Funko Pop doll. Nerds will be judged on how many times they've read it. Geeks will argue over how self aware it is, and how its barely-literate author is a fucking genius for making millions off their cherished memories. Dorks will rise up and create a board game out of its contents, and that board game shall be dubbed HOW MANY TIMES CAN I WRITE "HIS FACE CONTORTED IN AGONY?!?!?!?!?!" I love my fellow nerds and geeks and dorks, but you're being played like the video games you love. This book is to nerd culture what Episode One was to Star Wars.
Had this book done one thing original, I wouldn't be half as infuriated as I am right now. I wasted almost a week of my life reading this miserable puddle of nerd semen only to come to the end and find out - "HAHAHAHAHA I'm so self aware and meta" - that the ending is one of the top three things you don't do at the end of a science fiction novel. I won't spoil the ending for you, but the list goes as such:
1. It was all a dream/the dream was real.
2. The alien threat wasn't really the threat humanity should have felt threatened by/humanity is the real threat.
3. The whole thing was a simulation/the simulation was actually the real thing.
Now that I think about it, two of those things are true in this novel, but at separate times. Armada is so self aware that I'm honestly surprised Cline didn't reference himself in the book. Or if he did, I didn't notice because my brain started leaking from my ears around the 280-page mark.
In summation: Holy shit, this book was bad. Like, Drake and the 99 Dragons bad. Like, it can't get past the first level of Super Mario Brothers bad. Like, so bad that Cersei wouldn't fuck it... even if it was her blood relative.
Final Judgement: If Patrick Rothfuss ate John Scalzi this book would be the eventual excrement.