The Future Is Scary at Times: A Review of Ernest Cline’s Sci-Fi Novel “Armada”

Sayan Chattopadhyay
Adamas Universit
Kolkata, India
sayanphd11@gmail.com

Cline, E. (2015). Armada. Crown Publishing Group. 368 pages, Paperback, $23.00

Abstract

This review discusses the understandings of escapism and dystopia through the science fiction novel Armada by Ernest Cline. The book stands out through the ideas therein that reach beyond what can be discussed today under the realm of “futures” and seen through the main character in order to understand how this future is being built amidst a society that remains unknown. It also highlights the factors that are essential to spark escapism and to which parameters its understandings are restricted. This showcases the dystopian reality of a science fiction story and questions its very possibility rather than commenting upon its fictional nature. Hence, the central idea of this review, revolves around the connection between dystopian realities and escapism and how they are blurred within the story and in our understandings so far through western pedagogy. An additional aim of this work is to explore and establish hypothetical post-dystopian realities within the field of dystopian studies, and lastly, to present an alternative understanding within the definition of dystopian and apocalyptic scenarios. The discussion, however, mainly focuses on an exploration of dystopian futures and its limitations, while portraying how individualism dismantles this very limited sphere of dystopia, while moving beyond the boundaries of dystopian reality. It involves a discussion of how Ernest Cline has attempted to establish a post-dystopian future while creating a tomorrow that is unwanted by many yet desired by some. This review showcases the shift towards post-dystopia and discusses the future through Armada’s protagonist Zack, who is a young boy who dreams of becoming a hero in some way or other.

Keywords : Dystopia, Escapism, Post-Dystopia, Reality, Science Fiction

Review and Discussion

The book Armada was written by Ernest Cline, the acclaimed author of Ready Player One, which seemingly dilutes the boundaries between a utopian escape and a dystopian desire. My reading of the text suggests that there is a possibility of an existing post-dystopian reality, too, which has not yet been discussed or written about. This understanding of post-dystopia is different from that of post-apocalyptic since apocalypse and dystopia differ in meaning. This differentiation of realities originates from a post-modern perspective and also the realization of a post-dystopian reality that remains undiscovered and yet underlies the core of science fiction literature. Hence, to my understanding, if the reality of the protagonist exists in a problematic state in the fictional “real world”, then according to the concept of escapism, they should be aiming to escape into a better fictional reality. This, however, is not the case in Armada as the protagonist Zack Lightman wishes to enter an earth which is to be demolished by aliens. This fact can be sufficient to support the following statement made by the protagonist: “I had spent hundreds of hours gazing out at the calm, conquered suburban landscape surrounding my school, silently yearning for the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse…”, where the protagonist claims to break the parameters of escapism. Thus, it could be argued that the wish to move beyond a dystopian reality or towards a post-dystopian reality requires certain non-fictional aspects to it as well, which to return to my understanding, could involve political or socio-religious issues (Cline, 2018, p.4).

It could be stated that dystopian fictional realities are actually non-fictional socio-political satire presented in a fictional manner with respective elements added to it. For instance, in the text Armada, Zack can be seen relating more with unearthly (alienistic) fictional traits than that of a common human being’s, which indicates that there could be a flux in the meaning of “aliens”. Additionally, Zack intentionally tries to portray himself as trapped in a fabric that is made up of political and educational traditions. To support this statement the following lines from the book would suffice: “I had been hoping and waiting for some mind-blowingly fantastic, world altering event to finally shatter the endless monotony of my public education” (Cline, 2018, p.4). This also brings me to Alex Gendler’s understanding who, in his definition of Dystopia, claims that “Dystopia generates from the idea that humanity can be molded into an ideal shape” (Gendler, 2016).  In Armada, Zack finds himself in a more comfortable situation rather than in a tense and scary one, although the scenario around him remains dystopian (Cline, 2018). This helps to clarify the fact that there are possibilities that a post-dystopian scenario does in fact exist. This can surely clash with, and yet mimic the understanding of a post-apocalyptic reality, but it tends to differ from that in certain respects. The very understanding of post-apocalyptic and dystopian has remained on the same page, but according to my research, they have minute differences, and this brings my focus to the possibility of this research. Post-apocalyptic literature deals with a future where the catastrophe that has changed the world is man-made or caused by nature, whereas dystopian futures could move beyond natural or human territory into alienist realities. As the study is aimed at demystifying realities, a postmodern understanding of this text is also conducted whereby a new perspective, which seems to happen at an individual level, is understood. The dystopian present becomes an important factor here, because without it, the need for escapism cannot exist, as one can simply not wish to or have the tendency to leave a world which is actually not problematic. Simply put, one would not wish to leave paradise, as there is no better place than that, and therefore, the existence of a dystopian present becomes a necessity for the occurrence of escapism. It can be argued that dystopian fictional realities embody non-fictional political satire presented with fictional elements where the parameters of escapism are broken as the shift of the characters could be perceived as moving from dystopian to post-dystopian realities where dystopia itself, becomes a mere perspective instead of a shift from a utopian reality to something more nightmare-ish. It also provides an alternative perspective on how individualism affects the concepts of a fictional reality while still being a part of a non-fictional utopia. The study of this text through a comparative methodology also highlights the presence or lack or an alternate meaning of “knowledge” that can be seen as the central figure or the central dilemma around which the plot escalates.

As in the memory police, the protagonist can be seen to be in danger due to existing knowledge, yet is rather seen as being calculative towards the usage of knowledge (Ogawa & Snyder, 2020). This certainly seems to differ from the understanding of knowledge in Armada, as the protagonist is rather excited to showcase to the world his knowledge of how to become the savior of humanity, which re-defines the understanding of heroism as the hero is not requesting an utopian escape but rather a dystopia where everything seems to come to an end (Cline, 2018). Depending on the western education and knowledge over these fields, topics, and ideologies it is rather hard to predict a definitive conclusion for this phenomenon. However, a hypothetical conclusion could be presented, as this will not only justify the understandings present under postmodernism but also deconstruct science fiction literature in order to assume certain concepts and ideologies which could be utilized for a better understanding of the same in future referencing. This review has somehow deconstructed the ideas from a post-modern viewpoint, which could enable an alternate understanding of the same concepts, which has its base in modern times. Post-humanism would also be dealt with and re-revised in order to reach a conclusive understanding of individuality and individual needs in a post-modern society which will be supported with the character study as well as the study of the plot of the main text from an individual perspective.

References

Cline, E. (2018). In Armada: A novel. essay, Broadway Books.

Gee, H. (2008). Futures from Nature. Tor.

How to recognise a Dystopia. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://youtu.be/6a6kbU88wu0.

Jowett, B. (2012). The Republic by Plato (Vol. 1). AUK Classics.

Ogawa Yôko, & Snyder, S. (2020). The Memory Police. Vintage Books.

Author Bio

Sayan is a Doctoral Researcher affiliated with the Department of English at Adamas University, India. Additionally, he holds the position of Editor at the Journal of Science Fiction, which is associated with the renowned Museum of Science Fiction in Washington DC. Engaged in the scholarly exploration of Science Fiction and its diverse sub-genres, he demonstrates a discernible proclivity for assimilating the dynamic perspectives inherent to Postmodern conceptual frameworks. His scholarly pursuits bear particular focus on the ostensibly politicized Science Fiction that has emerged throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. His scholarly articles encompassing topics such as Dystopia and Utopia, Post-animalism, Political Science Fiction, and numerous others have also been chosen for presentation at various esteemed International Conferences including the PopCRN 2023, SASA Conference 2023, Solarpunk Conference 2023, IASFS Conference 2023, SUS Conference 2022, UNE Conference 2022, etc. His research publications, Science Fiction narratives, and media interviews are readily accessible on the internet, providing an open platform for readers and listeners worldwide to engage with his work.

Suggested Reference Citation

APA

Chattopadhyay, S. (2023). The Future Is Scary at Times: A Review of Ernest Cline’s Sci-Fi Novel “Armada”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 10(2). http://journaldialogue.org/reviews/the-future-is-scary-at-times-a-review-of-ernest-clines-sci-fi-novel-armada/

MLA

Chattopadhyay, Sayan.  (2023). The Future Is Scary at Times: A Review of Ernest Cline’s Sci-Fi Novel “Armada”, Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 2023, vol. 10, no. 2. http://journaldialogue.org/reviews/the-future-is-scary-at-times-a-review-of-ernest-clines-sci-fi-novel-armada/.

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