Thursday, August 04, 2011

BOOKS: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

It's going to be a movie in a theatre near you not too long from now. If you're my friend Patrick, you probably won't be going, because it can't possibly represent the whole book. But I have to admit, I'm looking forward to seeing Oscar nominee (and sexy blue X-Men) Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, the start of Suzanne Collins' wildly popular novel, The Hunger Games.

This review will also serve as a drive-by review of the other books in the Hunger Games Trilogy: Hunger Games is a five-star book, completely worth the world-wide renown Collins has been engulfed in.  It's brilliant. On a level of the first two Harry Potter books, albeit more related to Rambo than Disney movies. The second book? Catching Fire is pretty good, a four-star rating in my database. The third? Well there has to be a third to make a trilogy and bluntly Mockingjay gets three stars cuz Calibre won't show 2.5. Not horrible, but no better than an average wrapping up of all of Collins' brilliant ideas.

But we are here waxing prosaically about The Hunger Games. It's science fiction, but it's the kind of SF even my parents can get around. It's just an extrapolation of the old idea of the Roman Games in the coliseum, stretched out past an apocalyptic period, going left, rather than right (and into Mad Max and Thunderdone territory).

Life isn't great in Panem (loosely, the USA after the fall). Split into 12 (approximately) regions, the people find themselves hungry. The rulers, living in luxury in the capitol city, have managed to keep most of the people thinking about entertainment, rather than their own empty bellies or well-being in general. Representatives from each district congregate in the capitol city once a year for the Games. The winner gets extra food for his or her district for a year and a good life ... well, for life. 'Cept it might not be so good. A past winner from Katniss's region is thought of as a drunken waste of a big mansion. He and Katniss (who talks herself into representing the district, rather than allowing another to go) end up in the Capitol city after a solid demonstration of creating characters and world-building. You can see and feel the desperation of Katniss and her family and friends.

Unlike American Idol, there's a bit of a downside in competing in the Games and not winning the big prize. It's a battle to the death. Last person alive wins it all. Katniss has a skill that will serve in good stead. She's an ace with a bow. She's been surviving by poaching for a long time.

There's pageantry and intrigue before Katniss enters the field of battle. And, since this is a trilogy, it's not surprising that she does, in deed, win the day. But nothing's pre-ordained and the victory is somewhat Pyrrhic. The gloss of the Games hides an ugly truth that gets explored further, to good effect, in Catching Fire. The flaw in that book is Katniss's handling of the two boys/men in her life. It's a rather large wart on her heroic character. The concluding volume brings in surprises from a previously hidden party and a battle to end all battles. Collins' grip on the literary conventions of thrust and parry war is a little sloppy. But a conclusion you do get.

You COULD read The Hunger Games and be done with it and not feel you've been done ill by. IF you decide to go for the whole trilogy, either wait for the movies as they come out or read the books as one big door-stopper of a novel. Reading it back-to-back-to-back will help you keep the ever-ballooning cast straight as you go along.

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