Book Review: The Hunger Games

Cover art. - Wikipedia

The Hunger Games is the new big thing in the post-Potter post-Twilight world of young adult fiction. And when the movie adaption comes out tomorrow it’s going to get even bigger. It’s based on an interesting premise: in a dystopian future 24 teenagers are thrown into a massive arena for a brutal televised fight for survival, where only 1 is allowed to leave alive. It’s easy to see how this could become such a popular new series in young fiction – but is it any good?

I won’t keep you in suspense: I must admit — that from the very start — I was pretty disappointed.

The Hunger Games suffers from a two major weaknesses: firstly, the setting of the novel; and secondly, its basic premise. Post-war USA has been split into a number of Districts and a capital city (originally named “The Capitol”…). The Capitol is super-rich and high tech, whereas the Districts live in medieval conditions, performing menial labor under the constant threat of starvation (it’s all very black and white). The fatal problem that arises is that the world Collins has created is so incredibly simple that it’s lacking in all the areas that are needed to make it believable. As far as I could tell, the people in the Districts spend all their time working or sitting at home feeling hungry. The basic components of society — community, activities, religion, socialization for God’s sake!! — are all nonexistant. The world is mechanical and empty; it’s a mere cardboard cutout propped up to justify a bunch of kids killing each other.

This brings me to my second problem: the concept of “The Hunger Games” themselves. The Capitol annually hosts a televised teenage deathmatch called “The Hunger Games” which (we’re told) keeps the Districts in line by forcing their children to kill each other. But wouldn’t this actually make them more likely to rebel? I guess not. It’s also apparently very entertaining stuff to watch for the people in The Capitol. To be honest, if I lived in The Capitol I would rather watch a nice sitcom instead. Or maybe the 6 Nations. The 6 Nations is pretty good. This fundamental premise that “The Hunger Games” are the height of entertainment just didn’t convince me at all.

The things that do work well are the action and the main character, Katniss. When the battle in the arena finally starts it’s entertaining enough. In terms of emotional impact and violence Collins is definitely pulling her punches for her younger audience, but it’s tense and exciting nonetheless. Katniss is a good protagonist, managing to be ruthlessly cold-hearted yet likable at the same time, even if she is a bit too simplistic. Peeta is quite bland (as is the romance) but he does provide a decent counterpoint to Katniss at least. The other characters are one dimensional, and the twists that I expected them to pull never materialized. I kept thinking that each competitor was appearing the way they were as a ruse — that they were lulling Katniss into a false sense of security, only to turn on her when she was vulnerable. This never happens — it’s all shockingly straightforward.

Frankly, The Hunger Games was a bit of a let down. It’s a good book but it just doesn’t live up to the hype that’s been generated about it. When it comes down to it, it’s too simple and straightforward to truly excel. Sure, it’s fun and exciting when you get to the actual arena bit (It should make a flashy movie. If the don’t censor it too much. Though they probably will. Oh well.), but the rest is mediocre at best. It’s written for teenagers, and if you’re an adult, I highly recommend that you approach it as such; you won’t find any political or philosophical exploration here. Take it all at face value, and it’ll be a short, fast-paced, and relatively enjoyable read. But nothing more.

2.5 stars

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Band of the Day: Mogwai

I felt so bad for not listening to my new Mogwai CD until now (sounds like a story!), that I decided to write a ‘Song of the Day‘ post specially dedicated to them to make amends. This song is actually one of my favorites from their album ‘Mr. Beast‘ which I’ve had for quite a while – and which I highly recommend. It’s completely instrumental, as is most of their material. They have a pretty unique sound, blending traditional rock instruments with electronic bleeps and bloops. They also use a lot of piano – and if you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I love piano!

[Kevin loves piano. Mogwai uses piano. Therefore Kevin loves Mogwai. Simple really!]

The artwork for 'Mr. Beast'.

This song is interesting because it has two distinct halves (though the same chorus is used for both, to great effect). It’s also a wonderful example of the Mogwai technique of layering waves of music on top of each other to somehow create a coherent whole. Mogwai is a band which rarely provides “easy listening” material; but when you’re in the mood, they can straddle the line between beautiful and challenging perfectly. They’re “a thinking man’s band”… with an edge.

If you’re liking what you’ve read/heard so far then I would also recommend the song ‘I Love You, I’m Going to Blow up Your School’ from their more recent album ‘The Hawk is Howling‘. They’re… intriguing titles to say the least. The first few minutes of this song are darkly peaceful… and then it explodes into a cacophonous guitar solo!! It’s a powerful showcase of the two ends of the Mogwai spectrum, and the brooding tension that their songs hold.

If you like instrumental music, check them out!

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, Review

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages

This review has actually been waiting to be written for a month now, so it’s about time I got down to publishing it. I’ll try to keep it nice and short; let’s face it, if you’ve read the other two books already then you’re probably going to read this one too!

One line summary: The Hero of Ages is a very good book. It’s noticeably better than the previous entries of the series in a couple of areas, most notably in characterization. Previously bland or secondary characters like Spook and Ten’soon get their chance to step out into the limelight – each having their own POV here – and they’re both stand-out, likable, and complex characters..

Plot-wise, I’m of two minds. Sanderson comes good on his promises and  brings every strand together masterfully here. The grand tapestry that he has been building up to is finally fully revealed. After the last twist, everything fits and everything makes sense. In fact, I would have to say that it fits too well. The plot is so carefully constructed that in a certain way it actually restricts the story. Continue reading

Star Wars: The Old Republic; Initial Impressions: Story

Star Wars: The Old Republic is the new MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) from Bioware, the developer responsible for such games as Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I was a big fan of World of Warcraft back in the day, so I’ve always been interested in trying out a new MMO. As I’m also a big Star Wars fan, this game was perfect for me! In this ‘First Impressions’ series I’m going to be taking a look at each of the different aspects of the game – starting here with Story. Continue reading

Song of the Day: Pet, A Perfect Circle

‘Don’t fret precious I’m here, step away from the window,

And go back to sleep’

(Listen on YouTube, lyrics in description)

Pet is an exceptionally creepy song – it’s a lullaby gone wrong. From what I can tell, it’s about a seriously disturbed father who tries to protect his child from the world by hiding him from everything: not only from his “enemies” but from his choices and reason as well. Or maybe it’s about someone who has kidnapped a child – even creepier. It’s an interesting song as the lyrics are written from the father’s point of view, and he sees himself as completely rationale, sane and caring; it’s up to the music itself to highlight the psychotic nature of his actions – and the song does this really well.

The shift in tone between verse and chorus is brilliant, going from lullaby-quiet to war-drum-heavy respectively. There’s a great atmosphere throughout the song; the rhythm guitar, bass and drums are super heavy; the lead guitar’s riff is dissonant yet catchy at the same time; the lead vocals and harmonies are prefect. There’s even a nice guitar solo near the end. Definitely one of APC’s best. And creepiest!

‘Pay no mind what other voices say,
They don’t care about you, like I do, like I do

Safe from pain and truth and choice and other poison devils,
See, they don’t give a fuck about you, like I do.’

Immortals Review

Immortals: your go-to movie for bad fashion advice

Immortals is probably one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

Based loosely around Greek mythology, Immortals tells the story of a young man named Theseus who must lead the Hellenes to victory against the evil King Hyperion. There are are a few Greek gods involved as well (I’m actually not sure who half of them were – the movie never tells you) but they mostly restrain themselves from interfering in mortal affairs until the titans (evil gods) are released.

When a Hollywood movie is based on Greek mythology you know that it’s probably going to be pretty bad. Immortals, however, is somewhat surprising in this regard – it’s even worse than you probably expected. Continue reading

Mistborn: The Final Empire Review

I first discovered fantasy author Brandon Sanderson when I read The Gathering Storm, book 12 of the famous The Wheel of Time series, which Sanderson had been asked to finish after the death of Robert Jordan, the series’ creator. I was hugely impressed by Sanderson’s work on that book – so much so that I immediately went out in search of his other novels, and found this, Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first book of his epic fantasy Mistborn trilogy.

Fans of epic fantasy will all be familiar with the over-used trope of a protagonist who begins the story as a young farmer, discovers he/she has hidden magical powers, and then embarks on an epic quest to defeat a “Dark Lord” *cough* Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Truth; practically 90% of all fantasy books *end cough*. A modern fantasy author has to break away from this overused – and now horribly clichéd – story arch if they want to write something original and interesting. Sanderson succeeds in this brilliantly, basing his trilogy on a creative new premise: imagine the Dark Lord won. Continue reading

Johnny English Reborn Review

I was really looking forward to seeing Johnny English Reborn. I love Rowan Atkinson and I was very much in the mood to watch a light-hearted – even slapstick – comedy movie. The trailer for JE:R was fantastic and promised that it would be the perfect movie for me. But did it live up to my expectations? Continue reading