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Earning my keep: ARC reviews from BEA, beginning with Ernest Cline’s Armada

August 24, 2015

Having recently finished a handful of Advanced Reader Copies (or ARCs) that I received at Book Expo America, I decided to seek out some advice on what to do with them. I wanted to be sure that I could not shelve them in my library.

I ran across this article, and I saw far, far too much of myself in it. Although I have never sent an angry email or felt like someone SHOULD have given me a book, I have felt entitled to the ARCs I receive just because I bought a ticket to BEA.

I get literally over one hundred ARCs per year, sometimes over 150. I don’t read all of them. Some sit on a shelf in my room as I take out library books and reread old favorites. I give many, if not most, of them to local libraries to use as prizes for summer reading programming, but then there will still be a handful that I swear I will read “someday.”

“Someday” will not help the publishing companies, and “someday” is not what they gave me that book in exchange for.

So today I’m going to start seriously reviewing the ARCs I’ve read thus far from BEA 2015.

The first book I began with was the one I said I was going to begin with: Ernest Cline’s Armada. Cline bowled me over with his book Ready Player One a few years ago, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t enjoy it. When I first finished Armada, this is what I posted to Goodreads: This is probably really a 3.5. Early pacing is uneven; it feels like a short story that needs editing or a bigger novel that didn’t quite happen. But it entertained me. It was exciting and interesting and fun. I now need a jacket for my Armada patch.

So, okay, technically I reviewed the book in exchange for an advanced copy. But that is the least I could have done. Let me discuss the book in a little more detail. There shouldn’t be any big spoilers here.

With Ready Player One, we are entrenched in ’80s nostalgia by way of plot: the whole world is on an ’80s themed scavenger hunt created by a man who grew up in the ’80s. In Armada, the main character is a teenager who grew up worshiping his father, who grew up close enough to the ’80s that the ’80s become a focus for the teenager as well. For some readers, this isn’t hitting as well, but I find that ridiculous. My generation is dumping ’80s nostalgia by the truckload on our children. My daughter saw Clue and Ghostbusters before she saw any non-animated movie from her own generation.

This teenager sees a spaceship from his favorite video game hovering in the air above his hometown, and then a whole lot of stuff happens from there, once you deal with a  chapter or three of “here’s his life so far.” It feels like it was written backward–the reader can easily become bored with the drop-off in action–but it picks up after that and stays face-paced for most of the rest of the book. What has upset many readers is that the plot is similar to that of The Last Starfighter. That’s not a movie I watched over and over again (unlike Clue), so my memory of it is vague, but I know enough to know that’s not what Cline is going for here: Cline is asking instead, What if The Last Starfighter Knew About The Last Starfighter? Cline works well in a meta-world, and makes some really interesting, subtle points about the cynicism and optimism of the post-Gen X world.

And of course it also works as a big-budget movie. Because of course it would. It should!

Armada likely isn’t half the book Ready Player One was, but I’m okay with that. Until publishing companies understand that the reading public can wait longer than a year for a great author’s second book, we’re going to be getting these rush jobs. I’m not going to hold it against the authors. Armada needed a lot more work, but it’s still a fun, quick read, a good summer read, and I enjoyed it.

Side note: When I got this book signed by the author, he seemed surprised that my daughter had read the book and picked up on a lot of the references. He assumed that she would have an electronic device by her and look up the things she didn’t know, rather than that she’d already been introduced to most of it by me. This is extra-interesting because I feel like I’m part of a generation where we shove all our interests in our children’s faces all the time, especially the geeky parents. I’ve known quite a few little kids who can tell me all about R-rated movies and M-rated television shows because their parents want to share their interests with them (or because the parents don’t censor what their children watch). As someone who forgot exactly how raunchy Clerks was (“HOW?!?” my husband asked), I’ve been guilty of this myself but mostly by accident. But for the most part, many of the things we grew up with in the ’80s are kid-friendly with the occasional sex joke, so of course we’re going to share our favorites with our kids.

I didn’t, however, let my kid watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off until she was old enough to take a skip day. For reasons.

Next up: children’s books!

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