Armada: By Ernest Cline


A Story that was a dream of mine growing up.

When I was a child growing up in Lake Oswego, Oregon (Just outside Beaverton, Oregon) I went to see Star Wars in the summer of 1977.

This film totally changed my life.

But let me back up here just a bit.

My sisters, who are 7 and 9 years older than me, were growing up in an amazing time of Rock N Roll. The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Rush, Yes, Blue Oyster Cult, Bruce Springsteen, AD/DC, Queen, Heart, KISS, Van Halen, Joan Jett… ETC. These bands were constantly on a record player somewhere in our house.

I was inundated with some of the best rock music that was ever created at a young age, and it stuck. To this day i still yearn for true rock music. Noting how bands today rely too much on electronic sampling, loosing the tallent needed to play instruments. (For that matter, autotune has made every Tom, Dick and Harry able to sing on a song, and it drives me totally bonkers)

Then Star Wars entered my life. I was transfixateed on the amazing story of a kid, who was alone, who ended rising up from obscurity, alone on a farm in the middle of nowhere, on a planet that was a desert, literally a forgotten planet, to save the galaxy.

Now, to know me, I must say I was a child with a bad case of ADHD. It was bad. My parents couldnt figure out what to do with me. I was always active, couldnt pay attention in school and was almost quite literally bouncing off the walls at home. Then, one day when I put the cat in the dryer and turned it on, laughing, my mother finally broke down into tears, unable to keep up with me and took me to the doctors. ADHD in the 70’s was new. Not well understood. (By the way, the cat was fine. Mom stopped the dryer literally seconds after I turned it on.)

Prior to the mis 80’s doctors just said these kids were “Spry,” “Easily excitable,” “Rambunxious” or “Fed too much sugar” The thought of a mental diosorder attached to it was something new. Then, here I was, I was an extreme case. Because of this I didn’t have friends. I was usually alone. (I am not crying, I liked it, but would have loved some friends though at the time, as at the time I truly felt ostrasized.) No one wanted to hang out with me because I was so hyper and drove lots of people away with my overly active mind and body.

But in 1977, something new happened. I found something to occupy my brain. A film. Star Wars gave me something to focus on. It created a brand new me. I realized I loved Science Fiction.

By focusing, I really meant laser focused on it. Everything I did revolved around this film. I believe my parents really were relieved I had found something to really focus on, which I had never been able to do prior.

Space 1999, Buck Rogers in the 25th century, Battlestar Galactica, and the subsequent Star Wars films really calmed me down. Well some.

Now my mind was totally occupied with these stories of kids, called up for something special. The chance to save the universe. Luke, Starbuck, Buck and the others, people thrust from their ordinary lives, into something amazing.

in Battlestar Galactica, An entire civilization of a planet is on the run, after a brand of robots rose up and attacked their creators. Now traveling the galaxy looking for a new home, they are persued by the Cylon robots every step of the way. Heroes Starbuck and Apollo are the best fighter pilots of the best, and help lead the colonists to their new home planet, the fabled 13th colony of Earth.

In Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Gil Gerrard plays an astronaut that gets frozen in space, and lost. 500 years later he is awoken, and helps the government of earth fend off many different attempts to conquer our planet, and many times trying unsuccesfully to fit into a society that is far more advanced.

In Space 1999, a nuclear storage area on the moon explodes and hurtles the moon into deep space, along with hundreds of inhabitants, who live on Moonbase Alpha (Remember this name). this show came out in 1974-1976 but was reaired in 1978 and 1979 after the success of Star Wars, where I saw and fell in love with it. (A recent viewing proved to me that it was a truly boring television series, and I have no Idea why I loved it so much back then. It was no wonder my parents and sisters almost never watched with me.)

Unwilling and often times simply normal people, (Okay Buck Rogers was an astronaut, but his subsequent thrust into a world 500 years advanced is remarkable) Who were able to save the day. People like me could be heroes.

I remember nights I would lay in my bed, and run stories through my head where I was a character in these stories. I would reinact the films and shows in my bed, and would come up with dialogue. I would often times recite the dialogue out loud.. where I would fall asleep living in these stories.

But then something amazing happened. A story unlike any of the others was released in theatres.

While these other stories took place in far away galaxies, a long time ago, or in the future or on a distant planet or traveling ship, nothing had really hit right here in our home, or time.

Then, a film with a kid named Alex Rogen came out in 1984. A story about a kid who was only a couple years older than me, who plaed video games, and ended up being recruited by the Rylan Star League to take on the Ko-Dan Armada as… The Last Starfighter.

Holy shit! A kid from my generation was recruited, because he was so good at a video game! Turns out only he could solely take on an entire armada to save the universe because of his skills in a… VIDEO GAME!

Since the late 70’s I had an atari 2600 hooked up to the TV. I had spent hours upon hours putting in time to try and get high scores. I could then take a polaroid image and send off fot the coveted Activision patches.

Pitfall, Freeway, River Raid, Beam Riders, Spider Fighter and Starmaster took up all my time. I never got a patch sadly, as we didn’t have an instamatic camera, and my parents refused to let me take photos of the TV with their cameras.

The patches I tried so hard to get, but never did.

But these were the things we all wanted when we were growing up between 1980 and 1986. In Electronic Games magazine we would get updates on games coming to the home market. And see the advertisements for the patches. This was our life.

We would all go to the mall, peruse all the game magazines in B. Dalton book stores and read about all the current or coming games. We would almost never buy a magazine, and why? It was avalable to read right there in the store magazine rack. Very rarely when a cheat code or a send away special advertisement was in it, would we buy one with hard earned chore money and take it home.

I mean, I remember the amazing amount of freaking out when it was announced that Pac Man was coming to the Atari 2600 in 1982. I mean, we were all amazed an arcade title was coming home. It was not the first time, but this was something totally huge. The most popular video game ever to enter the arcades was going to be able to be played on channel 3 in our very own home. Whenever we want, without quarters.

So here is this kid, Alex, leaving the earth in a flying car. And entering a galactic battle as the last fighter.

It was my dream. A nothing kid, a loner from a trailer park, was now leaving the earth to save not only our planet, but every inhabited planet in the galaxy.

Alex and his little brother Louis at the Starfighter arcade game located at the Star Light Star Bright Trailer Park where they lived with their mom. The set of was located in Acton California, where the store is still in operation to this day.

This film will always remain in my top three films of all time, at number two, right behind Star Wars.

It is my absolute dream.

I really wanted to be Alex Rogen more than Luke, Because to me, Alex was us. He was me. I could be the guy who was really good at Defender, for example. I saved all the people in the game and destroyed all the alien abduction craft. Then have a space ship show up outside my house, tell me I was the last chance for the Galaxy.

The Star Light Star Bright trailer park Store is still in operation in Acton California.

Then be told the game was a tool to find the one who had the ability to not only fly the ship, but also posessed the courage and finesse to actually win the war. Then be taken up to space, where I would then take control of the very same ship depicted in Defender in order to save the entire galaxy as we know it.

Does that sound like a dream scenario or what?

There have been many attempts to recreate how someone who is a nobody can become the savior of the universe. But only two films have ever reached that level of story telling. The Last Starfighter, and Star Wars.

Between wielding the Force, or flying the Gunstar from Starfighter, I am really not sure which would be my dying wish.

I thought having a great story that sucks the watcher or reader into the roll of the protagonist would be a dying trend. Having the normal kid win is in a ton of films. But none have really captured the true love of fans like them.

Then, in 2015, a book was released. Now I didnt know about it at the time. It was the second book from Ernest Cline, his follow up to Ready Player one. Another book I had not heard of (Did I mention I live in Germany,? So English books do not reach my attention, since the average ammount of books I can get in english in the book store over here can be counted on two hands, and have still enough fingers left over to flip off people with both hands.)

When RPO was announced to be a movie from Steven Spielberg, I decided to look into it a listen to it on audio book from my public library in Bellevue.(To date my saving grace in the literature market is the app “Libby”, and my Bellevue Library card. It has brought me back into books which I have really missed since moving to Germany)

The amazing voice of Will Wheaton (Ensign Crusher in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and really missed in all the films with the same crew) was amazingly belting out this amazing Sci-Fantasy story from the future.

It was about a kid who was looking for three hidden eastereggs (a kind of hidden secret in video games) in a game called The Oasis. This game was more of a social virtual reality that over 90% of the worlds population was jacked into. Think of it like todays internet, except the user was totally imersed into it with an avatar representing them inthe world. It was an escape everyone used, and many just totally lived in it.

Anyway, the first to find all three eastereggs hiddes within becomes owner of The Oasis and all the seemingly endless profits it brings being CEO of a VR video game /social experience used by nearly everyone on the planet.

But overall I love the story and all its Pop Culture references from the 80’s. But it isn’t me. It is an amazing story and I loved it.

But I couldn’t place myself into the story. It is remarkable, dont get me wrong. But, a story should bring the watcher into it as well, putting them into the shoes of the protagonist, and really rooting for them.

RPO just seemed to fall just short of wanting me to be Parzival, the hero of the story. But to others it could really be them. So I really respect this book. Especially Clines true love of the subject matter, and the Pop Culture references. Tossed in not only to award the things he (we) loved as kids, but he used them to drive the story forward.

Then there is Armada, his second book.

It begins in Beaverton Oregon. MY HOME!

It involves Zack Lightman, whose father died in 2000. His father grew up playing video games in arcades and at home, and collected patches and watching all the movies of the time. Just like I did as well.

Iron Eagle, Another one of my all time favorite films, Time Bandits, ET, Star Wars, Star Trek, And even The Next Generation, Flight Of The Navigator and so many more. This kids father literally had my life, or something mirroring it, growing up! He left journals of his time in arcades playing games.

He also references an urban legend game, Polybus, that was reported as a government secret game that showed up one day at a Portland arcade in the early 80’s. It is reported that it dissapeared a few days later after men in black suits were seen opening the console one evening. The game was never seen or heard of again. Leading to this amazing legend of MKUltra experiments in video games.

Then his son, the hero of the book, who is the 5th best in the world at a video game called Armada, Get conscripted into a fight to save the earth from an alien invasion.

This book remarkibly thrusts the reader (Or listener, as I have both the written book and the audio book again read amazingly by Will Wheaton) into the roll of Zack Lightman.

Especially people like me, who really not only understand the 80’s and 90’s pop references in it, but lived by them, will really enjoy this book.

This book really captures the essence of The Last Starfighter, and thrusts it into our present time, and brings us along for an amazingly powerful and emotional ride. It is almost a re-write, but still remains separate. This is what I would imagine the story of The Last Starfighter being today.

The story only takes place in a time frame of just under 24 hours. But what happens in those hours are adreneline inducing, even for the reader. It starts of, and takes off running at 299,792,458 Meters Per Second. It only lets off the hand throttle when the exciting conclusion happens.

This book will always hold a place in my heart. It is an amazing and loving ode to our childhood growing up in the 80’s and 90’s.

It honestly and loveingly places the reader into the shoes of Zack Lightman as he enters the control booth of his Interceptor Drone Fighter in some of the most amazing dog fights to be placed onto page.

He gets stationed at Moon Base Alpha (Remember? This is the same name as the moon base from the TV series Space 1999, which I mentioned above. Cline really dug deep for references which many people wont recognize.)

I seem to be in a minority, loving this book over Ready Player One. But this one feels more like a story I myself would love to have been a part of. I could totally see me in the roll of Zack Lightman, AKA Ironbeagle (Hence my gamer tag, and this blog name) Or even Xavier Lightman, Zacks Father, who had a gamer tag of .

This book feels more authentic than RPO did, in my mind.

Do not get me wrong, I Love RPO. But Armada has my heart.

The reviews of the book, and the online reader reaction to the book are hurtful. It was not well received, and many of the readers referred to it being a “Rehash of RPO”.

This is far from the truth. There are reasons for the nostalgia in the book, there are reasons. It creates the base for the story that takes place. It is a back story. How did Zacks father find out about htis secret government organization that was defending the earth. The same one that was funding alien invasion TV shows, films and games to get the planet ready for the very thing happening in the story.

The pop culture references are not nostalgia bombs like some critics said. They are truly used. Even the song references in the book, if listend to while reading that part of the book, mesh perfectly with the words and the action on the pages. Here is a link to the playlist on Apple Music. It rocks!

Raid The Arcade Playlist: Music from the Book Armada by Ernest Cline

The story is amazing. I find myself many times getting emotional over several parts, such as when Zack returns home with a special injured passenger, to go to the hospital where his mother works in, after the first wave of attacks from the Europans (the alien race from Jupiters moon, Europa).

The Interceptor class Drone fighter, the Work Horse of the Earth Defence Alliance (EDA) of Armada.

I feel truly connected to this book. To the point that after reading it, several times, I even went so far as to change my very own gamertag to Ironbeagle71. Even the blog site where I am posting this shares the name.

I eventually got both Ready Player One and Armada in print, and had the great Ernest Cline autograph both copies for me. They now sit in a place of honor in my collection.

If you want to listen to an amazing story while driving to and from work, or working out, then get the audio book Armada, read by Will Wheaton. It is an amazing story that I will always cherrish.

Do not believe the critics, this story is remarkable and really engaging. It shows love for the pop culture of my childhood and video games alike, with great and engaging story telling. There is a ton of humor as well as heart string pulling.

Ernest cline really captured the dreams of my past, and placed them into word format. This book would make a great movie, but I think it could make a better Television series on Netflix. I for one would love to watch and read the book again and again.

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