Book Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

Title: Armada
Author: Ernest Cline
First Published: 2015

So what do you once you’ve turned the final page of a book you really loved? If you’re anything like me the answer might be:

  1. Feel a little sad that such a wonderful reading experience has come to an end.
  2. Start recommending said book to everyone you know.
  3. Find out if the author has published anything else and if so, buy it.

So you can imagine my glee when I discovered that, conveniently, I had finished Ernest Clines’ superb first novel, Ready Player One, just 3 days before his second book, Armada, was due to be published. Talk about perfect timing! Ready Player One may have presented a dystopian vision of the not-too-distant future but as far as reading experiences go, it was geek nirvana, laden as it was with so many contextually-justified references to the games, technology and pop-culture of the 1980s and 90s. Just like that novel’s protagonist, Wade, I’d been reluctant to logout of the enjoyably escapist virtual world laid out before me. But with Armada touted as offering a similarly pop-culture savvy experience to its predecessor it sounded like I wouldn’t be logged out for long. While Cline’s debut imagined the possibilities and the Pitfalls (Pitfall! Get it?) of a MMORPG style online world, Armada looks to the skies, and beyond: it’s an alien invasion narrative that promised to draw on every space shoot-em-up you’ve ever played and to offer a different context for all the sci-fi classic movies with which I grew up.

That all sounded so promising, and so much fun. You should never judge a book by it cover, of course, but it looked oh so promising too: what a great jacket design!

Armada book cover

Armada book cover

But…. while I can’t deny it was fun, overall, I have to admit I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so disappointed by a novel. I really wanted to like Armada but, though it does have some good moments, compared to the genius of Ready Player One, it just felt flat, forced and predictable. Son, I am disappoint.

Spoiler Alert!

Spoiler Alert!

What follows is a bit more on the novels’s themes as well as what I liked and the somewhat longer list of what I didn’t like about Armada. This is the kind of book that it’s hard to discuss without mentioning some key plot points so Rodimus is here to warn you that there may be one or two spoilers ahead.

Continue reading

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Robo Reads

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
First Published: 2011

I’m not sure this should really count as a fully fledged Robo Read but I’m going to include it under the heading anyway. Reasons? Well, the novel does include one scene-stealing giant robot moment, and although artificial intelligence isn’t really its focus, Ready Player One certainly explores our relationship with technology and the potential of on-line / virtual lives. Indeed, in that respect Cline’s book rather put me in mind of John Scalzi’s Lock In, a great novel that was the focus of my very first Robo Reads book review on this blog. Scalzi is actually name-checked in Cline’s work and has himself sung its praises, describing the book as a “nerdgasm.”

It’s a pretty accurate description. While its “Robo Reads” credentials may be debatable, there is no doubt that Ready Player One fully deserves the accolade of “Geek Lit Classic.” It’s not without it flaws but these are more than compensated by an overall ride that manages to combine some all-too-grimly-plausible near future dystopian world building with a gleefully referential nostalgic pop-cultural odyssey that had me grinning from ear. You probably need to be a bit of a gamer and to have some affection for the 80s to get the most out of this novel but if you fit those bills and haven’t read Cline’s debut novel already I highly recommend doing so now, or at least before Stephen Spielberg’s film version of it comes out. So, you’ve got just under a year and half, which shouldn’t be too much of a challenge considering this is the kind of book I struggled to put down and devoured in just a couple of sittings.

Continue reading

Chiptune Tuesday: 8 Bit Weapon and ComputeHer

8 Bit Weapon and ComputeHer are chiptune artists; actually, to be fair, 8 Bit Weapon is Seth & Michelle Sternberger, and ComputeHer is Michelle’s solo project, so it makes sense to talk about the two “bands” together. The previous two Chiptune Tuesdays I wrote about bands who add chiptunes to other types of music, so I thought it was tie to give a purely chiptune act some love.

Straightforward though 8 Bit Weapon’s music might be, it’s far from boring. They work with a variety (in their own words, “an arsenal”) of classic video game consoles and vintage computers as instruments.  Whilst they stay true to their chiptune aesthetic, they don’t appear to be too purist to use emulators and synths when it gets the result they want. Continue reading

Everything that’s wrong with the Transformers Prime Top Trumps set

Ah Top Trumps, that enduring game of comparing statistics. I say “enduring” for two reasons: firstly, the product itself has a long heritage, having been a playground staple since the 1970s, and secondly, depending on the composition of the particular deck, an individual game can run and run with just a couple of cards with ‘killer stats’ ensuring that the whole pile gets passed back and forth, usually between the last two remaining players.

When we used to run a monthly Chez Addaltmode games night (back in those heady days before all the shift work made such regular dates impossible)  we always used to “warm up” by starting the evening with a round of Top Trumps before progressing onto Poker or at least something else a little more mentally demanding (which, let’s face it, is almost any other game – except, possibly, uh,  Hungry Hungry Hippos). Over time, the Top Trumps became a bit of a running joke and our friends delighted in trying to find more and more bizarre themed decks with which we could battle stats; among the highlights were our Warhammer, The Muppets and Hello Kitty card sets – oh and the old Smash Hits deck that prompted an awful lot of  comments along the line of “who?” and “nope, don’t remember them!”

Yes this is a whole blog post about a deck of Top Trumps

Yes this is going to be a whole blog post about a deck of Top Trumps

So I was very amused when one of my friends bought me a Transformers Prime Top Trumps deck. Hooray for pictures of robots! Surely no danger of asking “who?” here! And comparing statistics should be all the better when you actually care about the characters under scrutiny – right? Except, sometimes it’s the things you love that can hurt you most of all. I know I am not the target market for this product, but even so, the more you know about Prime, the more WTF moments you’re likely to encounter flicking through these cards. From characters who aren’t in the series to really odd stat choices, there are some real mind-bogglers here, some of which at least gave me a good laugh. So in true Addaltmode tradition, I’ve compiled a list…. Don’t say we never cover the ultra-relevant, burning issues of the day on this blog!

Continue reading

Chiptune Tuesday: Demoscene Time Machine

It’s been a while since we did any music-related posts on here, so let’s rectify that. Now, my taste in music as a whole runs rather towards the bleak: gothic metal, post rock, dark wave, that sort of thing. My Dad once described an album I was listening to as “the sort of thing that would get rejected from Leonard Cohen’s funeral playlist for blackening the mood.” So, yeah, I’m a bit of a musical miserablist overall, but when I’m ready to go to my aural happy place there’s nothing I enjoy more than listening to chiptunes.

Which isn’t to say all chiptune sounds are upbeat. Chiptune isn’t really a genre so much as a way of producing music, using the technology and sound chips from old 80s consoles and computers. There are some wonderfully downbeat chiptune soundscapes out there too, some of which we may showcase another Tuesday.  But let’s start with a project that does feel truly joyful in its nostalgia for the world of 8-bit gaming… Bring on Demoscene Time Machine!

Demoscene Time Machine band logo

Demoscene Time Machine band logo

Continue reading

Geek vacation: a visit to Berlin’s Computerspielemuseum

We’ve just got back from a fantastic holiday in Germany which included some time spent in Berlin. We’ve made overnight stops in the city before but this was our first chance to spend a whole day there and begin to explore it properly. Berlin has a great vibe, and there’s so much to see and do: from the powerful experience that is visiting the remains of The Wall and reading its history at the Checkpoint Charlie exhibition, to admiring the iconic architecture of the Brandenburg Gate, soaking up culture on Museum Island, or laughing at the procession of animal-print styled Trabants belching out fumes as they drive in procession through the centre for a hilarious “Trabi-Safari.” But while we made time for many of these well known tourist experiences, we here at AddAltMode simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to enjoy a slightly less famous Berlin attraction and – in doing so – to cross off another wish from our geek bucket list. I’m talking, of course, about paying a visit to the Berlin Computerspielemuseum (Video Game Museum), also known as Geek Heaven.

museum, exterior

Ooh heaven is a place on earth

Continue reading

Video Game Review: Double Dragon Neon

Skullmageddon's goons abduct Marian.

Skullmageddon’s goons abduct Marian.

Last december, at the start of the *snort* Primary Gifting Period, I was generously given Double Dragon Neon by my brother. It is, of course, a remake of the classic 80s beat-’em-up Double Dragon.

Billy Lee sets out to rescue Marian

This vehicle must be a time machine, since it came directly from 1987.

The plot goes thus: The villainous magical skeleton Skullmageddon has kidnapped Marian, girlfriend of martial artist Billy Lee, who (aided by his brother Jimmy if 2 players are available) must slap, kick and wrestle through Skullmageddon’s army of goons to rescue her. Continue reading