cover image Armada


Ernest Cline. Crown, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8041-3725-6

What if the X-Files were a “fictional alien cover-up created to conceal [a] real one”? Cline (Ready Player One) makes this kind of paranoia intriguing in an SF novel whose strong opening compensates for a less gripping ending. After Zack Lightman’s father died in an accident, the teen distracted himself with gaming, achieving one of the world’s top scores in a human vs. alien invaders game called Armada. To Zack’s astonishment, one morning he looks out of his classroom window in Beaverton, Wash., and sees a Sobrukai Glaive, one of the enemy ships from that game. Skeptical of his own senses, Zack flees school to take a more careful look at his father’s writings, only to find an unsettling level of conspiracy thinking. Zack soon finds the connection between his vision and his father’s theories, at which point the story becomes more conventional and less imaginative. The plot holes get harder to ignore as the conclusion approaches, but the book’s beginning offers glimpses of Cline’s significant potential. (July)