For those of us who have been hating Ready Player One before it was cool, the backlash has been weird. Sure, the book is full of sexism, racism, pointless nostalgia, and lists of things. All valid reasons to hate it! But did anyone dumping on the book, or even its fans, actually look at the words on the page? That was my biggest problem with Ready Player One.
The writing was excruciating.
Ernest Cline’s second book, Armada, is somehow the same novel with a different plot. There’s the same listing of movies and video games without any inkling of their meaning. There’s the same weird racism around Asian characters who wear sandals and watch Robotech. There’s new depths of sexism as the mother character is a former gamer and total babe, and the love interest girl is a l33t hacker and total babe who finds the main doofus hilarious. I do like how he improved the characterization of our protagonist from “18 year-old white boy obsessed with 1980s pop culture” to “18 year-old white boy obsessed with 1980s pop culture but he gets angry sometimes.”
Why did I read Armada if I hated Ready Player One? Because of the podcast 372 Pages We’ll Never Get Back by Conor Lastowka and Mike Nelson of Rifftrax fame. They slogged through both books, picking out dumb lines, analyzing nonsensical character actions, and revealing the lack of tension in every dramatic sequence. My favorite department was “fanfic or real,” where they try to determine which of two (or more) paragraphs is from an upcoming chapter of the book or something written by a random person on the Internet.
Knowing what I do about fanfiction, this is a bit unfair. It’s a stereotype to cast all fanfiction as inferior to the original work. Most fanfiction they read for Ready Player One was charming: people imagining themselves as Klingon experts, putting themseles in Return of the Jedi, or mashing Homestuck into the universe.
But when it came time to read Armada fanfic, Conor and Mike ran into a problem: there was none.
Not because the book is any worse, strictly speaking: it’s just tremendously unimaginative. Instead of a futuristic VR world where you can do anything or be anyone, Armada is the story of a modern-day boy who’s good at a video game, so the government recruits him to play the same video game against real aliens.
That’s the entire plot. Who wants to be part of that setting? Talk about Yawnsville, USA.
In the face of this fanfiction drought the 372 Pages podcast implored their readers to write them some. And write we did, chuckling to ourselves as we inserted pointless references and twisted the English language until it squealed.
Here are the fanfiction works I submitted to 372 Pages, and a few I rejected for being too awful. Please get a net ready to catch your eyeballs as they fall out of your head.
It’s really bad. Almost as bad as Armada, but not quite.
One of my favorites, this got a response from Conor:
hahaha, i laughed out loud at this one. hilarious. I bet it stumps mike.
The screen faded to black and I raised the visor of my VR headset, taking in the gloomy faces of the other EDA pilots.
“Twenty kills in three minutes!” I laughed, flipping IceMan the bird. “Guess you better go back to shooting womp rats.”
“It’s your stupid Leeroy move,” he shot back, “it doesn’t take any skill.”
“But it pays the bills,” I said, basking in the glow of my name at the top of the scoreboard. This meant I would be able to select the color of my drones for the next mission. I had it all picked out: red and gold, just like Iron Man. My heavy boots of lead would fill my victims full of dread.
Mike read this one starting from the line “I pushed the joystick down.”
A thousand battle plans flew through my mind in what seemed like an instant. Lex’s ATHID robot couldn’t dodge the fire from the Europan gun turrets at its current top speed. But what if she could go faster?
“Eighty-eight miles per hour!” I shouted. “We need to get your ATHID up to eighty-eight miles per hour so you can get over the wall!”
“And how do you propose we do that, McFly?” In the video chat window I saw her mime bopping me on the head, like old Biff from Back to the Future.
I pushed the joystick down and my interceptor fell from the sky, coming up next to Lex’s robot. “Hop on,” I said, “when they blow me up you’ll get a boost!”
She jumped on my ship and surfed it like a hoverboard. A few seconds later the gun turret nailed me and my ship exploded, launching Lex over the barricade.
“Thanks for the lift, IronBeagle,” she laughed.
“As you wish,” I whispered over the explosion. Her eyes went wide and she gasped, recognizing the quote from the classic 80’s movie The Princess Bride.
My other favorite, Mike read this one starting at “His response.” I think leaving out the first half enhanced the punchline. Hearing Conor’s exasperated groan when he realized the context was an absolute delight.
“The EDA stocks a full assortment of intimate protection for pilots on long deployments,” he said, awkwardly glancing toward the bathroom. “Otherwise a lot of guys would go crazy up here.”
“You never cheated on mom!” I protested, furious with my father for having put the thought in my head.
“Never. Not once.”
His response was as hard as adamantium, and I believed him.
“Now vamoose, she should be here soon!” he said, excitement creeping into his voice. I nodded and slipped out of the room, rounding the corner just as her approaching reflection glinted in the corridor.
Give it to her good, old man, I thought.
This one was never read, but I’m okay with that. I don’t think I will ever top Give it to her good, old man.
“You are the one we have been looking for,” droned the little girl voice, “our Luke Skywalker. Our Alex Rogan. Our Ender Wiggin. Your human training is now complete. You must come with us to fight the true enemy, a being we call Klo-Dam. He is the one who has been boiling our oceans and polluting our atmosphere, forcing us to fight in this senseless war. Help us, Zack Lightman. You are our only hope.”
Want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes? I came up with a list (of course) of ideas for terrible fanfiction. My only regret is not writing a story with a Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference to make Mike tremble in fear that it might be real.
- Love scene with Lex
- Zack talks to the aliens
- Bonding scene with his father
- Loses his Raid the Arcade playlist
- MST3K reference (voice of Crow, Tom, Gypsy)
- Conversation with Stephen Hawking
- More name drops ala Neil deGrasse Tyson
- Some interaction with his diverse peers
- Rejection of the call, goes back to his insanely hot mom
- Takes his insanely hot mom up to the moon base to visit his dad
- Some totally messed up paradigm change like the 16-bit universe one
- Passage from inside the alien hive mind
- In the middle of a screed
Rejected submission one
Amazingly, Armada contains a reference to Rock You Like A Hurricane!
“Believe it, Lieutenant.” the admiral said. “The Europans aren’t our real enemy. They’re being controlled by another entity, a being which calls itself Klo-Dan. That evil son of a bitch will stop at nothing to rob the Earth of its natural resources. Our oceans drained, our amber waves of grain looted and pillaged. I won’t see that happen. Not on my watch.”
My fist clenched. I now knew the name of my true enemy. This fight wasn’t over. Lex and I were going to rock him like a hurricane.
Rejected submission two
Sorry in advance.
I was sweating bullets as I walked down the corridor to Lex’s room. Even the careful direction of the 3D map on my QComm didn’t stop me from taking a few wrong turns.
I stared at the panel to her room, wondering if it would activate with my sweaty palms. Just then the door slid open to reveal Lex sporting a white tank top and matching white panties, just like Ellen Ripley from Aliens.
“I love you,” I heard myself say.
She grinned. “I know.”