Armada (novel)

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Armada novel cover.jpg
Cover to the first printing
Author Ernest Cline
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Crown
Publication date
July 14, 2015
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 368
ISBN 0804137250

Armada is a science fiction novel by Ernest Cline, published on July 14, 2015 by Crown Publishing Group (a division of Random House).[1][2] The story follows a teenager who plays an online video game about defending against an alien invasion, only to find out that the game is a simulator to prepare him and people around the world for defending against an actual alien invasion.[3]

Wil Wheaton, who narrated the audio book version of Cline's previous novel, Ready Player One, performs the audio book of Armada as well.[4] Plans for a film adaptation are also in process.[3]


Zack Lightman glances out his classroom window and spots a UFO that resembles a ship from a video game that he plays every night, a hugely popular online air combat simulator called Armada, in which gamers protect Earth from alien invaders. He is very skilled at the game, having placed in the top ten among millions of users, however in real life, he is just a high school senior with a reputation of having a short fuse and getting into trouble, having fought a bully student Douglas Knotcher in junior high. After getting into a confrontation with Knotcher, Zack leaves school and returns to his home where he looks at some of his late father Xavier's notebook about a conspiracy theory involving pop culture films (Star Wars, Flight of the Navigator, The Last Starfighter), novels (Ender's Game), and video games about alien invasions and military simulations. He works part-time at a video game shop where his boss Ray surprises him with a fancy new controller for Armada as an early graduation gift. He tries it out on one of the new special missions on Armada that involves attacking the home planet of the aliens but the Earth team fails.

After Knotcher had keyed his car and brings his friends to fight Zack, a shuttlecraft with the Earth Defense Alliance (EDA) logo lands. Ray is one of the passengers, and he invites Zack to join him in a top-secret military facility in Nebraska. There, he learns the EDA is real, that there are actually aliens from Europa planning to invade the planet with ships as shown in the Armada game, and that the EDA had been using Armada to train soldiers to pilot drone ships to protect Earth from the Europans and to identify which gamers would be best for the task. The EDA reveals that the Europans have planned a three-phase full-scale attack in less than eight hours. Shortly after the briefing, the Nebraska base is attacked by a scouting party, during which Zack disobeys orders by chasing down an invading ship that managed to fly into one of the deploying tunnels and self-destructed, causing the loss of several hundred EDA drones. Although Zack is scolded by Admiral Vance for the action, he and other top performing Armada players are deployed to Moon Base Alpha, where he will be reporting to his father Xavier, thought to have died in an explosion when Zack was an infant, but has actually been in the EDA and has been serving as a general as well as the top-ranked Armada player.

In the first wave of attacks, the EDA moon base is attacked by Europan drones. The new recruits attempt to defend it, but ultimately fail and flee to Earth. After helping to end the first wave of attacks on Earth, Zack and his father theorize that the entire Europan invasion is only a test to discover how Earth would respond to a civilization-ending threat, given that the aliens could have easily wiped them out at any time, but had let them have opportunities to fight back and win. They determined that the probe that Earth had sent to Europa decades ago was actually a warhead called Icebreaker that was intent on destroying the Europans, meaning that Earth had struck first and had initiated the entire war. They realize that a second Icebreaker warhead has been deployed to detonate on Europa around the time of the second wave, which would result in mutually assured destruction. With the second wave starting, Xavier raids an EDA base containing the pilots who are escorting the warhead and sacrifices himself. Zack then activates his drones near Europa to defeat Admiral Vance's controlled drone escorts and to destroy Icebreaker, resulting in the alien ships powering down and falling to Earth. An icosahedron arises from Europa and identifies itself as the Emissary, a machine that was created by a galactic community of civilizations called the Sodality. The Emissary had orchestrated the entire situation as a test to see if humanity could exist peacefully with their group, and declares that Earth has passed. Zack accepts the membership on behalf of Earth, and the third wave of alien ships arrives to aid the survivors and to restore the planet. Zack later joins as an ambassador to learn the aliens' true motives.


Armada was a New York Times bestseller,[5] debuting at #4 and remaining on the list for five weeks.


As he did with the paperback release of his debut novel Ready Player One, Cline held a video game contest to celebrate the release of the paperback of Armada.[6] Readers could play a web browser version of Phaëton (the faux-retro shooter game featured in the book) and the top scorer won an Oculus Rift. All players who scored at least 525 points in the game won an embroidered "Earth Defense Alliance" patch, another reference to the book and a nod to the Activision patch promotions of the 1980s.

Film adaptation[edit]

On December 7, 2015, Cline announced the sale of the film rights to Armada to Universal Pictures for a reported seven-figure sum.[7]

See also[edit]

  • The Last Starfighter — 1980s science fiction adventure film that inspired this novel. It has the similar premise of playing a video game and being recruited into a real space force.
  • Ender's Game — 1980s science fiction novel and 2010s film. Through playing a simulation, the lead character eventually learns he has actually been commanding a real space force.