Monday, November 28, 2011

Our Family Tradition

So we took another drive to Illinois to spend time with my father for Thanksgiving. I certainly hope that the kids and I inherited whatever genes he has for longevity and vitality: he's 86yo and still has his wits about him, he still drives (safely), builds stuff in his workshop, stays active, etc. A short visit, given the amount of driving, but it was good to see him.

We drove out there in the new minivan, and one of our "family traditions" is that we listen to audio books while on the road. This year we chose Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay).

Will it surprise you to learn that it's being made into a movie? And that Woody Harrelson is one of the major players? According to the IMDB, the first movie is set for release in (I think) March 2012, the 2nd book in 2015, and the last book in ????.

In case you're unfamiliar with the books, they're "Young Adult" -- which means they get away with stealing plot elements from other sources. The author acknoledges the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur as an influence, but there are a whole lot more that spring to mind without a lot of effort: Shirley Jackson's The Lottery (1948), Stephen King's The Long Walk (1979) and The Running Man (1982), and especially Koushun Takami's Battle Royale (1999). The Hunger Games was first published in 2008. Picasso supposedly said "Good artists borrow, great artists steal" -- I'm not sure I'd call her a "great artist", but I give her credit that she re-fashions that which she steals and makes it her own.

The first and second books are "uneven". When there's action, things move along at a good clip. But one of the books' weaknesses is that the main character / narrator is a fairly clueless teenaged girl ala Bella from Stephenie Meyers' Twilight books. She's deadly with a bow and arrow, but notso-hotso at using words. Or figuring out how she's being manipulated at almost every turn. I don't want to spoil the books for anyone, but there is are some "teen romance" scenes that go on for waaaay too long.

In fairness, though, Collins has a real talent for painting a highly emotional pictures when she wants to. The District 11 'salute' to Katniss, and Katniss' on-stage transformation are the two examples I can think of without spoiling the books. There are others. I found myself wishing I could write well enough to convey the moment and the emotion the way Collins does.

I can see the appeal of making this into a movie. The oppressive Capitol government of Panem is pretty high-tech and seem to have some mastery of antigravity, cloaking, and force-field technology, which will make for some good SFX, and the decadence of the "upper class" should be good for some outrageous design. There's a lot of action and a lot of room for "eye-candy".

I spent a lot of the first two books wondering just why and how such a government as Panem could exist. I was reminded a bit of the Empire of Azad in Iain M Banks' The Player Of Games, where they as much as admit they keep the people oppressed simply because they get off on it. Don't even get me started on the ridiculous "District" scheme, where each district specializes in one commodity (ie, District 4 is seafood, District 11 is vegetables, District 8 is textiles, etc).

My remarks above primarily concern the first two books. We only listened to about 90 minutes of the third book, Mockingjay, before we got home, and from page 1 it violated that most sacrosanct of all rules of writing, that being that "the author shall make the reader care whether the main character lives or dies". Maybe it gets better later on -- I mentioned that the books are "uneven", and it's entirely possible that things will begin to pick up later in the text.

For our next trip, I think we'll listen to Dan Simmons' Hyperion. There's some sex, violence, and bad language, but I think the kids can handle it.

Oh, one last comment on The Hunger Games books: there was no sex and (I think) absolutely no bad language in the text we listened to. Not a single "hell" or "damn". Again, we didn't finish Mockingjay so maybe it ends in a huge foul-mouthed orgy. But I sorta doubt it.

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