Tag Archives: Hunger Games

Summer Sci-Fi Fiction Round Up, Part 2

Hrm, just realized that I’ve inadvertently titled these articles “Science-Fiction Fiction Round Up.” Does that mean that I should be discussing fiction about science-fiction; meta-fiction where the fiction is written about fictional fiction (by aliens! or robots from the future!)? Is my post itself is fictional? This requires further pondering. While I do that, you read up on what books to pick up or avoid as we say buh-bye to Summer.

You cannot begin to understand me. I am a mysterious mystery.
Having been burned by Catching Fire (ZING! “Burned!” Get it?! HA! HA! HA! H-…OK, I’ll stop now.), I decided to try another author who seems to have gained some ground in the “quirky sci-fi” category, China Mieville. First up was his latest, Kraken. It’s a labyrinthine tale of a decidedly unremarkable museum docent tossed into a hidden, mystical London sub-culture where he and his preserved giant squid are the keys to stopping (or maybe starting) a coming Apocalypse. I loved the concept, though I was a little wary of too much Cthulu creeping into my reading diet (having just finished The Mall of Cthulhu, a mildly enjoyable, but altogether forgettable Cthulu tale). Turns out I need not have worried. There are squid cults in here, and the Old One does get name-dropped early on; but only so that Mieville can dismiss this pedestrian concept and replace it with something even more batshit. You see that picture up there? You see that smug look on his face? If you think he looks like an arrogant college kid who dismisses criticism because people aren’t evolved enough to “understand his art,” you wouldn’t be too far off. Mieville revels in introducing quirky scenarios and characters and, instead of fleshing them out, swiping them to the floor with a grand gesture and plopping down something even more incomprehensible. What you’re left with is a book full of half-formed ideas, writhing together in an indistinguishable mass (much like the titular Kraken). The other Mieville book I tried, Perdido Street Station, is more of the same; more so, even, since it’s more “traditional” sci-fi, taking place far from Earth (though London obviously informs the setting) and doesn’t have to bother with the familiar at all. I couldn’t get through the first 100 pages. After following around an “arteest” with a bug for a head (not a “bug-headed girl,” mind you, but a girl with a complete giant beetle for a head; the former is, again, far too pedestrian) for about 3 chapters and getting nowhere except deeper into the “Look at this needlessly complex piece of crap that has spewed forth from my brain! Oh! Look! Here’s another! WHAT DOES IT MEEEEAAAAAAN?!” I decided that Mieville was far too clever for his own good and left him to his own devices.

So at this point I’m zero-for-four and starting to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t just run back to the pages of Gibson and Simmons. But no! I must press on and find new and exciting authors! Stones will not be left unturned! Asteroids will not be unexplored! That’s no moon! A recommendation trickled down the pipe for The Unincorporated Man by the Kollins Brothers. I immediately fell in love with the concept: after 300 years, a man is revived only to discover that our entire economic system has crumbled and that people subsist by incorporating themselves, with their “shareholders” determining the course of their life (depending on how much of you they own). It started out strong as well. The first few chapters concern themselves heavily with the practical implications of self-ownership and how resurrection is handled in a society where death and illness are inconveniences rather than a show-stoppers. Then the Kollins boys pulled a bait and switch on me. While the characters negotiated a deal at a pawn shop, they morphed into talking heads and delivered a little back and forth lesson on theoretical economics. At that point, I realized I was reading a book far different from the one I signed up for. Sadly, the pattern kept repeating as they went to Firenze and had pizza, and then again, and again, and again. Finally I put it down, realizing that I’d blundered into, not a work of hard science fiction, but an Economic Theory textbook with sci-fi trappings. Granted, my MBA friend couldn’t put it down; but then he’s already a special kind of crazy, so I’d expect him to lurv it.

So is there hope? Was there anything at the end of the summer to redeem my five-book strike out? Oh, there was. There was indeed. But you’ll just have to wait for a bit to find out what.

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Summer Sci-Fi Fiction Round Up, Part 1

Summer is waning (which, for those of us in Florida, means another month of the most brutal humidity/temperature combinations known to man) and with it, any semblance of free time. Ergo, my days of tearing through new books like a blaster through a womprat are over. As I mentioned back in June, I rediscovered my local library and used it like the cheap, tax-fed grinder monkey it is to feed my need for new books. I covered Mira Grant’s Feed in that earlier post (I’m still desperately waiting for the release of Deadline) and Bacigalupi’s Pump Six and Other Stories, which is being re-released in paperback at some point in the near future; but what about the rest of the books I culled from the stacks?

First up was another by Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker. His first YA novel, it took elements of the post-apocalyptic society he started developing in Pump Six and The Windup Girl and brought it down to a much grittier, personal level. Don’t let the YA label fool you, this was a brutal, dirty work, where children are only valuable for as long as they can fit into the crawl-spaces of old oil tankers and strip them of their parts. Life is one long punch to the gut for the main character, Nailer, as he deals with life-threatening injuries, prostitution, drug addiction, class warfare…the list goes on. Some of the slavery messages are heavy-handed, and the showdown and ending were far too pat for me to be completely satisfied (feeling a bit like a concession to the YA label); but I still recommend it. Like Bacigalupi’s other works, the world he’s created is fully-realized and expertly rendered. If you’ve ever wondered what things will look like if they fall apart – this should be your first stop.

Next up in the reading list was Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I know I’m going to catch Hell for this (since some of you are big fans); but I absolutely hated this series. BUT! But, I hate with the passion of a Kindergartner pushing down his object of desire, running away, and denying any involvement whatsoever. I want to love the Hunger Games trilogy. The setup is redolent with potential; after a long, brutal, and, ultimately, failed war of secession, America’s (Earth’s?!) remaining humans have been separated into specialized districts and are kept at the ragged edge of poverty and starvation while they produce goods for the rich inhabitants of The Capitol (the “winners” in that aforementioned war). To keep everyone in line, the ruling government rounds up the children from all the Districts every year, pick a boy and a girl from each, and force them to fight to the death in an elaborate staged contest: The Hunger Games. It’s got everything I love – society unwinding itself like a broken watch, a touch of science gone awry, and a Twilight-esque love triangle where a young girl can never quite decide who it is she should make out with (which doesn’t matter because she feels like crap no matter who she picks). Yeah, one of these things is not like the other. As much as I loved the setting and the action (which was really sharply written), I ended up rage-quitting the second book in the series as Katniss and her eternal waffling over Peeta and Gale kept getting in the way of the societal meltdown that was happening all around her. Especially in Catching Fire, I felt that Collins was playing up Katniss’ adolescent indecision to artificially pump the “drama” quotient, rather than just trusting the already ample situational stress present to do that for the reader. Hunger Games, I really wanted to love you, but I’ll have to settle for loving to hate you instead.

There’s more, but I’ll save you from additional ranting for now. Next up, a giant squid, a bug-headed girl, and a bunch of superheroes walk into a bar…