Zack Lightman is a typical teenager living in a small town in Oregon. He is about to graduate high school. He works part time in a vintage video gameÂ shop. He plays the hit space combat game “Armada” quite a bit, with a player ranking ofÂ sixth worldwide. He also plays the companion ground combat game Terra Firma, but is nowhere near as good as his friends. The whole world seems to be playing these games. Then one, day, an Earth Defense Alliance shuttle looking just like in the games turns up at Zack’s school to pick him up for duty. Apparently the alien invaders are real and the games are a training simulation.
LikeÂ in his debut novelÂ Ready Player One, Mr. Cline plays heavily on nostalgia and homages to the pop culture of the eighties. The story itself is heavily influencedÂ byÂ The Last Starfighter, which is alsoÂ is referenced in the text. HoweverÂ in this novel the element feels somewhat forced.
The book is a fun romp and a lighthearted read. However it feels rushed and unfinished. The reader is left with the impression that there is so much left to say about these characters, but the story moves on rails, far too rapidly tracking towards what is a predictable conclusion despite the too obvious twist.