We recently caught up with author Ernest Cline to learn more about his new book Armada (Crown, July 2015), the success that Ready Player One (Crown, August 2011) has had in common reading programs and among students, as well as his advice to young writers.
From where did you get the inspiration for your latest novel?
I think the main inspiration came from growing up as a child of Star Wars, ET, and Close Encounters, as well as growing up at the dawn of the videogame and home computer age. I was part of the first generation to have a starship simulator in my living room, in the form of an Atari 2600. I used to build an X-Wing cockpit out of couch pillows in front of the television, so I could pretend that I was Luke Skywalker on his way to blow up the Death Star. I spent a huge portion of my childhood wishing that my wicked videogame skills might someday have value in the real world, a fantasy that was made even more intense by all of the videogames-become-reality stories I devoured back in the 80s, like WarGames, Tron, Ender’s Game, or The Last Starfighter.
But I think the very first kernel of the idea for Armada came from reading a news story about the tank combat videogame BATTLEZONE, released by Atari in 1980. In 1981, the US Army purchased the rights to the game and had its creator, Ed Rotberg, reprogram it to be an actual tank combat simulator called Bradley Trainer, which they intended to use to train real Army recruits how to operate a new tank called the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Bradley Trainer never made it past the prototype phase, but the realization that a videogame could actually be used to train you for real world combat had a profound effect on me, and on how I viewed videogames.
Eventually, all of these separate threads were woven together to form the idea for Armada: What if all of the science fiction movies I grew up watching, and all of the alien invasion videogames I grew up playing, were actually created to prepare the people of Earth for the real thing?
You have visited many schools that have adopted Ready Player One for common reading. What’s the most interesting or memorable thing a student has said to you? Why do you think young people can relate to your work?
The most memorable thing students usually say to me is also the most common. “This is the first book I’ve ever been assigned as homework that I actually enjoyed reading.” I take it as huge compliment.
I think one reason young people might be able to relate to my work is because it deals with issues that are so relevant to their everyday lives: technology, the Internet, social media, online identity, and simulation versus reality.
Both of your books feature a high school student as the main protagonist. Did you/do you share any similarities with either or both characters?
I was sort of a socially awkward geek like Wade when I was in grade and middle school, but by the time I was in high school I was dating girls and had developed a big circle of friends—although my friends and girlfriends were usually geeks-of-a-feather, like me.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
I don’t have any new advice, but I can share some that has stuck with me over the years:
Write what you know.
Write about things that interest and excite you, but only if you hope to make your work interesting and exciting to others.
Try not to let anyone rush you—including yourself.
Finish what you start.
Click here to watch Ernest Cline at the 2013 First-Year Experience® Random House Luncheon
ERNEST CLINE is a novelist, screenwriter, father, and full-time geek. His first novel, Ready Player One, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller and appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists. Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games.