Saturday, May 21, 2011

CBR III #5 - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games was recommended and lent to me by a coworker.  I got through it in two nights and thoroughly enjoyed it.  After having the Twilight series recommended to me by another coworker, I was pleasantly surprised to find The Hunger Games to be an intelligent work of young adult fiction.  The main character, Katniss, is smart, capable and brave.  The story has actual substance and thought behind it.  Obviously there were still some elements that are apparently necessary for the teen market; the love triangle for one.  But, at least in this first book in the trilogy, it wasn't too in your face and obnoxious.

The book is set a bit in the future after a major war when everything has been divided up into districts surrounding the central government which has taken to an iron authoritarian method to keeping the districts under control.  Katniss lives in one of the poorest districts with her mother and younger sister.  Each of the districts, through one of the methods the government uses to keep the districts under control, must submit two candidates, a boy and a girl, for the Hunger Games.  The candidates are chosen through a lottery after which they are sent to compete to the death.  Katniss ends up being one of her district's candidates.

The pacing and the plot of the book also carries it forward.  Once set into the Hunger Games, the book moves forward quickly with different alliances and realliances.  There were gut-wrenching losses and heart-warming moments that didn't feel overtly emotionally manipulative, but were instead scenes that seemed to flow directly and naturally from the Games and the situations arising from the Games.

The Hunger Games, as well as serving as an oppressive measure to keep the districts in line, also serve as entertainment for the Capital's citizens.  They are riveted to it and uncritical of it as a source of entertainment.  They go with the flow of the manipulation of their emotions and give no thought to the  candidates as actual human beings beyond their entertainment value.  It is this background commentary on society and the fearful glimpse of a possible thoughtless, uncaring, self-centered, entertainment-centric future of humanity that sets this book apart from some of the more thoughtless additions to young adult fiction.

CBR III #4 - Beginner's Greek by James Collins

Beginner's Greek was a fairly easy novel to whip through.  The pacing of the plot kept me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep each night.  Despite enjoying the book and finding it hard to  put down, I was not terribly invested in the two main characters.  I found them likeable at first, but then partway through, I found I couldn't care less whether they found what they were looking for or achieved a happy ending.  Neither of the main characters, Peter or Holly, seemed to have grown from when the  reader meets them in the first pages to ten years later.  In fact, they seemed to almost become less well-rounded and become more two-dimensional.  Holly seemed to only function as a jawline with reddish hair and Peter was a caricature of a semi-reluctant corporate climber.  The narrator explains to the reader that they are both good and interesting people, but nothing the narrator describes them doing is either particularly good or interesting.
The character who held my interest the most was Holly's stepmother Julia.  She had a few sections devoted solely to her character about halfway through the book and I was a little disappointed when the book flipped back to the Holly, Peter and Charlotte triangle.  She was more well-rounded and without resorting to just explaining how good and interesting she was, the narrator actually gave her a back story and thoughts that showed her to be an interesting; and the background of her past, less than good, deeds made it all the more compelling when she actually struggled with a decision and ended up making a more morally decent choice.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

CBR III #3 - The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

I've been slacking off on the writing of reviews, but not on reading the books, so hopefully I'll be able to catch up shortly.  The third book I read this year was The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.  I was fully expecting to at least like this book, since I loved both The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin.  Unfortunately, I found The Year of the Flood a struggle to read through to the end.  I wanted to skip every single one of the God's Gardeners' hymns and preachy manifestos that preceded all the changes in narrator.  They were as annoyingly sanctimonious and hippy dippy as you would expect from something called a God's Gardeners' hymn and sermon.  Also, I've never liked poetry/lyrics intermixed with a novel.  Just give me straight up prose please.  Fittingly, the GG hymns and sermons set the tone of the entire novel.  I'm all for the idea of living naturally off the earth and avoiding waste and the creation of waste, but the preachy earthier-than-thou tone of the book set my teeth on edge.

The story starts off with the event in question, the flood, having already happened.  The reader is introduced to the first narrator Toby, who is surviving on her own in one of the abandoned God's Gardeners' compounds.  Eventually, interspersed with the other narrator's stories, each character's background and affiliation with the God's Gardeners is revealed.  Sadly enough though, even a quarter of the way into the book, I couldn't have cared less.  While I usually enjoy Atwood's slow pacing and measured reveal of her characters and their motivations, the overly earthy moralizing tone of this book ruined it for me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

CBR-III #2: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go is not a novel with characters raging against a dystopian universe that treats them cruelly.  Instead it is a novel of three young people’s interactions and the way they deal with the fate that is chosen for them.  The main focus is the narrator; known only as Kathy H., and her interactions with her two friends, Ruth and Tommy.  It sketches a picture of the three from their time as children under the care of “guardians” through to their adulthood.  The novel, unlike Tommy’s excessively detailed drawings, provides only sketches of the unnatural trio and never a fully fleshed out vision of the three.  As children, and even as they reach adulthood, everything about the three is provided in glimpses.  They are never quite sure of their fate.  They know that they have shadowy donations looming in their future, but as a coping mechanism, they never fully discuss or attempt to comprehend the future that has been chosen for them.  Much of the time whenever the three, or any of their “classmates” are together they spend their time pretending the future is open to them in a normal fashion and avoid anything that might remind them of their limited existence. 

At Hailsham, under the care of their guardians, the trio has what appear to be normal school day interactions.  They experience the trials of bullying, love, insecurity and all the other normal situations and feelings that pre and post adolescents struggle with.  All throughout the school days though, there is an occasional pulling back of the curtain providing a brief glimpse of the future that awaits them all.  Every time, though, the curtain is quickly pushed back before there fates can be fully realized.  Kathy discusses the tensions she can feel amongst the guardians about how much to reveal to the students.  The students struggle with deciding how much of their future they want to discover.  The school collects their artwork for an unknown purpose.   The students consider it an honor, but are never quite sure why they consider it one. 

As they leave Hailsham and their future comes closer, they still refuse to discuss it with each other.  They move from Hailsham to an abandoned farm and try to continue life in the pattern of their school.  As time goes by and the older ex-students chose to begin their careers as carers and eventual donors, their fate becomes inescapable.  Their youthful dreams of office life and becoming like people in the outside fade away.  Their quiet acceptance of the future that someone else has chosen for them is the most disturbing part of the novel.  Except for one instance, there is almost no scene in the novel where any of the three main characters rails against their fate.  The only people shown fighting for the autonomy of the donors are the guardians who are never even quite sure that what they are fighting for is even a worthwhile fight.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

CBR-III Review #1: A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Somehow, despite most people having read A Brave New World in high school, this book has passed me by.   Which is a little strange, considering how much I like a good dystopian novel; And this book is an extremely good dystopian novel.  It is equal parts predictive and disturbing.   Although humans (well, at least the Alphas of Huxley’s vision) may not be flying around in individualized helicopters anytime soon, it is easy to imagine a world in which most humans work in a mundane repetitive job during working hours and numb themselves after the working day is done.  In fact, even without a daily ration of Soma, that is practically speaking, what a significant portion of the population do on their own; through alcohol, drugs (either or both prescription and non-prescription) and television or some combination of all three.   And the thought of a genetically engineered caste system put in place to maintain social order isn't such a far-fetched view of the possible lengths a government may go to in order to ensure control.      

The most disturbing scenes to read in the novel were the ones where the Savage, John, has what equates to a series of nervous breakdowns as he tries to reconcile the ideals of human feelings and emotion, gleaned form Shakespeare no less, with what he sees in the “civilized” society.   As he progresses through the novel he has an ever greater difficultly reconciling his ideals with his new reality.  And as his illusions about the great society that his mother described to him are dissolved one by one and his ideals about himself and his own emotions are shattered, he reaches a breaking point.  And that is the most truly disturbing point the book has to make.  That possibly in the future, society will reach a point, where the population is too great and resources so few, that conforming without critical thinking will become a necessity in order to keep humanity as a whole intact.

Cannonball Read III

So, hopefully I'll read 52 books and be able to make myself write a brief review for each one.  I'm off to a slow start, so we'll see ... Book One Review to follow in a few minutes ...