Frankly it isn’t a contest. Ernest Cline’s Ready, Player One has received millions (at least it feels like it) of amazing reviews, while Armada just didn’t. In my humble opinion RPO was spectacular; it sucks you in to this crazy futuristic environment, and doesn’t let you go. On the other hand, Armada is just okay. I wouldn’t recommend reading it first—if you do, you’ll probably never bother with Ready, Player One, and that would not be a good mistake.
For the sake of order, here, let’s start with what makes Ready, Player One so awesome, because much of what makes it awesome is what makes Armada fall a bit flat. RPO is set in a future world, where real life isn’t half as great as it used to be. Our hero, Wade Watts, lives in a trailer with his aunt and about 12 other people. This trailer is located in the “stacks” (yes, you can think library here), where people pile their rv’s/trailers/vans/etc. on top of each other as a response to overcrowding in cities, lack of resources, lack of jobs, what-have-you. Life on planet Earth isn’t great.
That’s where OASIS comes in. OASIS, an online virtual reality mmo type of game, allows players to log in and level up characters by fighting and completing quests (like you could in, say, WOW); players can go to school, they can work, they can go clubbing, hang out in a friends “basement” playing video games. You get the idea. If it weren’t for having to eat, sleep, and exercise, you can pretty much live in the OASIS (as Wade does many times throughout the book).
When the OASIS’s creator, James Halliday, dies, he leaves his company and fortune in the hands of whomever can solve his puzzle first (and find the egg)—a puzzle based on Halliday’s love of all things 80’s. As the years go on, more and more people quit the search for Halliday’s egg, with the exception of a few notable groups: the gunters—your average joes obsessed with the search—and the sixers—employees of the massive IOI corporation out to make money. Wade Watts is a gunter, and a broke gunter at that, meaning he doesn’t have the funds to leave his school world, level up his character, and do all of the other fancy things that most of the other gunters can. Regardless, Wade finds himself opening the very first gate—making him the very first to accomplish this task. What follows is a fast paced journey of pretty much everyone in the entire world trying to find the egg first, and the bad guys, the sixers, trying to beat them all to it and gain control of the OASIS. It’s full of humor and trivia; if you are a fan of anything 80’s you will probably find something you like in this book.
I actually listened to both books on Audible, and Wil Wheaton does an excellent job reading. I really appreciated the meta moment in the middle where he referenced himself. I will, more than likely, listen to it again at some point—I enjoyed it that much.
My Armada review will be a little shorter, because I have far less to say about it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that great either. I listened to Wheaton read that one too. While Wheaton does an excellent job, sometimes even an excellent reader can’t make a mediocre book great. Also, I think his voice just made me want to re-listen to RPO…
Zack Lightman, our teenage protagonist, looks out the window at school and spots a space ship, straight out of his favorite video game, flying through the air. An alien invasion follows, and it seems like Cline is trying to write another Ready Player One with all of its video-gaminess and references. Armada falls flat because of this. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to try your hand at rewriting it, because you’re pretty sure even you could do a better job at it(I spent a half hour last night doing that exact thing). Honestly, Cline could’ve skipped pretty much all of his many references and instead focused on developing his plot/characters a bit more to make the book a million times stronger, but for whatever reason he didn’t. He technically made them part of the plot, but that doesn’t mean they did anything for it. They had impact in RPO. They didn’t have impact in Armada.
If you liked RPO will you like it? Maybe? Go in with very low expectations (I lowered mine a lot, and I’m glad I did), and you’ll enjoy it well enough. You probably won’t recommend it to friends, but if you’re sad because it’s been a while since RPO and you really, really want to try it out then just do it. It isn’t awful, it just isn’t good.
I did notice in the interview Cline gave with Amazon that he lists Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash as one of his favorite novels. Snow Crash, a funky cyberpunk adventure, has some plot similarities to RPO (like virtual reality) AND a good plot that WILL surprise you. It might be a better way to scratch your RPO itch than Armada. Just sayin’.