5 Questions for Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline has been one of the hottest writers to hit the SF scene since his 2011 debut Ready Player One, a loving tribute to 1980s pop culture within a dystopian future world, became a runaway bestseller. The movie rights were quickly snapped up and the legendary Steven Spielberg has been tapped to do the film adaptation. It’s hard to get off to a more explosive start, and Ernie has finally produced a long-awaited second book, Armada, which was just released in July and is an action-packed story inspired by The Last Starfighter, Ender’s Game, and Star Wars. Ernie was kind enough to take some time out from his packed book promotion tour for Armada to answer some of my questions.

I’ve also got two hardback copies of Armada to two give to two lucky commenters! (As always, US and Canadian addresses, please.)

Stuart Starosta: You are an unabashed fan of 80s pop culture, especially movies, music, books, and TV. What makes the 80s remain so popular today in a way that the 90s, and 2000s are not? Is it just because that generation is now mature and driving popular taste, or is there something uniquely appealing about that era?

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Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline: I think it’s because the 80s was something of a golden age for technology and entertainment. That was the decade when most people got their first home video game console, their first home computer, and their first VCR — all life and culture-changing pieces of technology. In retrospect, it seems as if the 80s is when humanity first stepped onto the path that led us to where we are today.

It’s been 4 years since your previous book. Have you spend most of that time conceiving and writing Armada, or were you busy with other projects like the upcoming movie version of Ready Player One? Was it hard to come up with another story idea once your first book was such a big hit?

I was busy with several other projects, too — including writing the first few drafts of the RPO screenplay, appearing at over a dozen universities that had selected the novel as a common read for their students, and promoting the release of the RPO paperback, which involved creating and running an elaborate three-part video game contest that mirrored the one in the novel. In the midst of all that, I was also writing Armada. The idea was one I’d had for years, but developing it into a full-length novel (and a screenplay) was extremely challenging — especially doing so in the midst of my first novel’s runaway success.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsArmada is heavily influenced by The Last Starfighter, Ender’s Game, Star Wars, and a lot of video games. Do you still spend a lot of time playing classic video games, or do you also play modern combat games like Halo, Metal Gear Solid, etc.? Do you think readers can still enjoy Armada even if they aren’t hard-core gamers?

I still play the classics, but I also spent a lot of time playing newer games, like Portal, Half-Life 2, and EVE Valkyrie. And yes, I think readers will still enjoy Armada if they’re not die-hard gamers. That definitely seemed to be the case with Ready Player One, too. Lots of people told me it has become one of their favorite books, even though they’ve never been gamers. Which isn’t that strange — you don’t have to have a degree in archaeology to enjoy an Indiana Jones movie.

Ready Player One was a runaway hit that struck a chord with a broad range of readers, even those who don’t normally read science fiction. It’s amazing that Steven Spielberg has agreed to direct the film; that must be a surreal feeling! Were you closely involved on the screenplay with Zak Penn? If you could choose your favorite 80s actors to play major roles, who would they be?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI wrote the first two drafts of the RPO screenplay, so Zak has been rewriting my earlier drafts. Luckily I’m a huge fan of his writing, and he and I became friends during the filming of his Atari: Game Over documentary, so he’s been kind enough to consult with me occasionally while he’s been working on the script. He’s been doing an incredibly kick-ass job.

The only 80s actor I really want to get a role in the film is Wil Wheaton, who also narrates the audiobook of Ready Player One (and Armada, too). Wil is one of my favorite actors, and I know it would make a lot of RPO fans extremely happy if he made a cameo in the film — myself included.

Now that you’ve written two books whose film rights have been immediately snapped up, are you increasingly drawn to the world of Hollywood, or do you plan to stay in Austin, TX and continue writing books first and foremost, whether they get film adaptations or not? Do you plan to remain a writer, or leverage it to do something else you’ve always wanted?

Well, I actually started out as a screenwriter, and then moved into writing novels. I wrote the script for the 2009 film Fanboys, but that film took so long to get made and got so mutilated during the process that it motivated me to try writing my first novel, just to have control over my story and characters. I think I’ll continue to write novels and then adapt them for the screen, because as a writer, it gives you the best of both worlds. I’ve always wanted to be both a novelist and a screenwriter, so I’m already lucky enough to be doing what I’ve always wanted to do.

Thanks for your questions! Readers, please leave a comment below to be entered for a chance to win one of two copies of Armada.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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  1. Nice insight about the 80s being the blossoming of home-entertainment technology! That puts the nostalgia-craze in some perspective.

    • And not just home-entertainment. CDs and the Walkman and Boom Boxes (a few years earlier) meant we could easily take our music with us wherever we went. (Big deal for teens). And then PCs. And a great economy for most Americans.

      As Stuart alludes to, it was a formative time for those of us who are now middle-aged. I was a teenager/young adult in the 80s, from when I went to middle school, through college (Go Gators!) to when I got married (12 to 21). Is there a more formative time in a person’s life? Add all that burgeoning technology with blossoming personhood and a booming economy — it’s a heady mix and it’s no wonder we’re so nostalgic about it. The 80s were the perfect time to be finding your place and taking off in the world.

      • I’d forgotten about the Walkman. That was awesome.

        I was already working and seeing the people who weren’t allowed to share in that vibrant booming economy. I dealt with people who had been “downsized” out of jobs they’d had for seventeen years, who had lost their homes and were living on the sidewalk, and so on. Sorry to be a downer. I do begin to see why for some people it was a great period.

        • Yes, I’d definitely say it was a middle-class phenomenon. And those of us who were middle-class teenagers at the time had the luxury of being naive about people who were not able to participate.

  2. Brandon MacIntyre /

    Nice interview. As for 80’s actors for Ready Player One dream casting, I’d love to see Rick Moranis come out of retirement, maybe for the elder James Halliday.
    Looking forward to Armada.

  3. This was fun interview to read! Somehow I still haven’t read RPO, though :/

  4. I’ve just started Ready Player One and am having a bit of a fan girl moment reading this interview…

  5. Ren Bedell /

    Ready Player One is on my to-read list. Great interview, will definitely check out Armada too!

  6. I’ve heard good things about Ready Player One. Now I need to have a look at Armada, too.

  7. Ready Player One was probably the last book I read in a single sitting. It was so much fun I just devoured it. That’s an awfully tough act to follow for Armada, but I live in hope.

  8. brian /

    Reading Armada now. Loving it so far. Thanks for the interview.

  9. Brandon and Brian, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of ARMADA!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!

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