Why did I wait this long: a review of The Hunger Games

There’s a drowsy in-between period when I can hear the last few strains of her music although she’s lost in the leaves. When I fully awaken, I’m momentarily confused. I try to hold on to the peaceful feeling of the dream, but it quickly slips away, leaving me sadder and lonelier than ever.

The Hunger GamesWHY DID I WAIT SO LONG TO READ THIS BOOK?!

Ahem. That outburst accurately sums up my feelings about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and I ought to leave it at that. But because this is a review, let me explain my enthusiasm.

The eponymous Hunger Games is a Battle Royale for children — a televised sporting tournament that throws the rich and the poor, the untrained and the athletic, together in an open arena where they must survive against the elements and each other in a fight to the death. It’s also the biggest reminder of the Capitol’s power and how much control it wields over the twelve districts of Panem.

The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (yes, it’s a weird name, but there’s a reason for it), comes from an incredibly poor area called the Seam. Through memories and recollections that feel organic to the story (they’re woven in), Collins shows us how capable and battle-hardened the character is before she even enters the arena. Katniss watched her father die, cared for her innocent little sister when her mother’s mind and body succumbed to depression, and started hunting outside the district limits, beyond the fence  — a pursuit that’s forbidden but so essential to the simplest human survival in Panem. Hunger is their oppression.

Life is a little easier when Katniss meets with her hunting partner, Gale, but their relationship is strictly business and friendship. At least, it was. A trace of romance seeps into their talks in the woods just as the next annual Hunger Games are about to begin, and not Katniss or Gale but her little sister Prim is chosen, with a single odd against her. That’s when Katniss volunteers to take her place and her entire perspective on life changes — mainly, that she won’t have one for much longer.

That’s the most fascinating part about The Hunger Games to me: the meanings of words. Survival, romance, killing, mercy. At first, survival is making it through another day of gnawing hunger in the Seam, and then it’s outsmarting your enemies and the ravages of nature in the Games. It’s owing someone and living for them, or being owed.

Romance is thinking of love in terms of practicality — raising a child in a world where hunger is law — or putting on a show to give the citizens of Panem, the “audience,” the drama and excitement they crave, all to better ensure survival (popularity means sponsorship, which means more gifts during the Games). Murder (dare she use the word when the Capitol treats the Games as national celebrations) is the difference between killing an animal and killing a person, someone who could easily be a friend, and sometimes is. Or it’s ending a life when a quick death is preferable.

Collins plays with these dualities and more, and she does it in a way that’s natural and perfectly paced, that’s ever urgent and deeply affecting, with a protagonist who’s both likeable for her strength and moral values yet hopelessly graceless in times of social need. For once of such talent and intelligence, Katniss is clumsy with words, clueless near boys, and faithless about her own abilities. But these flaws only make her more impressive — more real. Every time I was on the verge of tears (which was pretty often), I held them back because I knew Katniss would do the same. She had to. Perceived weakness is death in the Games.

Some vulnerability is okay — that of love. Much of the Games veers toward Katniss’s fabricated romance with the boy tribute from her district, Peeta. To win the favor of the audience, they play the roles of star-crossed lovers, partners and teammates all while knowing one of their fates must be cut short, possibly by the other’s hand. There can only be one victor. Their relationship is always reminiscent of this pull and tug: enemies or friends, lovers or actors, Katniss is never quite sure. And at home, watching them onscreen, is Gale.

Our curiosity about what Gale, her loyal and trusted friend, must be thinking is never answered. That awkwardness is tangible with each kiss or smile Katniss and Peeta share, but at times, when the moment is right, it vanishes completely. They experience a whole lifetime in that arena, and that’s something Gale can never match. But he and the Seam promise normalcy, or close enough to it, and Peeta is everything but.

The second book, Catching Fire, should parse the truth from the fabrication, the genuine feelings from the ones born out of the instinct to survive. And I can’t wait to read it.

Grade: A

Awesome book cover Friday: The Lowest Heaven

Happy Friday! Today’s book cover pick is The Lowest Heaven by editors Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin, available June 13.

The Lowest Heaven
Below is a description. You can learn more about the book here.

The Lowest Heaven is a new anthology of contemporary science fiction published in partnership to coincide with Visions of the Universe, a major exhibition of space imagery at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

Each story in The Lowest Heaven is themed around a body in the Solar System, from the Sun to Halley’s Comet. The stories are illustrated with photographs and artwork selected from the archives of the Royal Observatory, while the book’s cover and overall design are the work of award-winning South African illustrator Joey Hi-Fi.

So what do you think of the cover? Is this something you’d be interested in reading, too?

Awesome book cover Friday: Irregular Creatures

Happy Friday! Today’s book cover pick is Irregular Creatures by author Chuck Wendig.

irregular-creatures
I love cats, so … yeah.

The book is 99 cents on Amazon and actually sounds pretty cool:

Contained within are nine stories featuring bizarre beasties, mythological mutants, and overall “irregular creatures” – including flying cats, mermaids, Bigfoot, giant chickens, and mystic hobo hermaphrodites.

It also includes stories about a radioactive monkey (cocktail … which I’m guessing doesn’t end so well for the imbiber) and a zombie that won’t die.

If anyone reads this, let me know how it is! I’m actually quite tempted to buy it, but I have a couple other books that are taking priority at the moment. This is only 45,000 words, though, so I may get it anyway.

Enjoy the weekend!

Awesome book cover Friday: The Explorer

Happy Friday, everyone! Today’s book cover pick is The Explorer by James Smythe.

The Explorer by James Smythe

You can only find this cover on the hardback edition, which is unfortunately out of print with limited availability. But you can buy a newer e-book version.

Here’s a description:

A tense, claustrophobic, and gripping science-fiction thriller from the author of The Testimony. When journalist Cormac Easton is selected to document the first manned mission into deep space, he dreams of securing his place in history as one of humanity’s great explorers. But in space, nothing goes according to plan. The crew wake from hypersleep to discover their captain dead in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod. They mourn, and Cormac sends a beautifully written eulogy back to Earth. The word from ground control is unequivocal: No matter what happens, the mission must continue. But as the body count begins to rise, Cormac finds himself alone and spiraling towards his own inevitable death…unless he can do something to stop it.

What do you think of the cover? I love how it reflects the emptiness and darkness of space — the astronaut looks like he’s gently falling, but he’s tumbling into nothingness.

John Shirley on horror, the melding of genres, and storytelling (it’s in the genes)

Resident Evil: RetributionJohn Shirley isn’t new to the writing biz: He’s a master of cyberpunk, science fiction, and horror. But those genres aren’t exclusive from one another — they share common traits, and writers often stir elements from them together, like paints from different pots. It’s not much different from the blending of science fiction and fantasy, for example.

But what do those genres — and novel, short story, and screenplay writing, in this case — have to do with video games? Well, a lot. Video game narratives are a form of fiction, but they draw from any genre you can name, including the ones Shirley does best. He’s no stranger to the medium, either. He’s adapted into print the first-person shooter series Borderlands in The Fallen and Unconquered and BioShock in Rapture, and now he’s turned to Resident Evil. Only this time, it’s a book based on a film based on a game franchise: Resident Evil: Retribution(from Titan Books).

John ShirleyFortunately, Shirley has all the right experience and know-how to make it work — from penning screenplays (such as the first one for The Crow) to writing his own novels (like City Come A-Walkin’ and Dracula In Love), short stories (like the Bram Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award-winning collection Black Butterflies), movie novelizations (Constantine and Doom, etc.), and more. So how does he juggle it all?

Misprinted Pages: This isn’t your first foray into sci-fi and horror — you’re something of an expert by now. How is the writing process and creative investment of penning a novelization based on an existing property (like Resident Evil) different from inventing your own original story?

John Shirley: Well, of course, in my own “just John Shirley” fiction — like A Song Called Youth, or Demons, or Everything Is Broken — I have to make up the plot entirely on my own. There might occasionally be some plot point suggestions from an editor, but it’s rare. And I don’t have to take the suggestion. With a novelization, I have to incorporate the entire script into the novel, and that means someone else’s plot. I can add additional plot points — like “B story,” as they say in television writing — [or] subplots, but nothing can contradict the script, the backstory of the script, or the “world” of the franchise. So it’s a sort of dance one does.

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