Well, I’m back from a very lazy week on my camping chair.
Just like I did last year, I crammed some reading in-between naps and chasing the kids around. I read 1.5 books on my new iPhone and 1 paperback from the legendary Bookbarn in Niantic CT. The reviews below only contain minor spoilers, though likely less than a “typical” review. Anyway…
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I’ve had this book on my list for quite some time now – it’s post apocalyptic and a #1 Kindle book. That’s awesome stuff!
I wasn’t terrified of the Young Adult (YA) categorization. Unlike many readers, my ability to enjoy a book isn’t limited to the audience it was intended for. That, and I’m not about to look down my nose at a work just because it was intended for younger readers. A novel need not be full of heady ideas to be enjoyable.
Well, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to it!
I was quite entertained by this book. The dystopian setting had me intrigued as we caught glimpses of it while moving along. The author doesn’t bore you with a heavy prologue tho – setting details are revealed by showing their impact upon characters… good stuff!
The story was also very interesting to me. Though I have a severe distaste for “survival” post-apoc (you know, where every fire lit is described in gory detail), this book has a good amount of “hunting” and “survival” passages/descriptions. In the end, it didn’t bother me. Since these things were intertwined with more than just a struggle to keep breathing, I think it all worked well for my strange taste. Where things got going for me was with the whole play between the oppressed citizens/POV character and the heavy-handed “Capitol” (the collective villain here). I was tantalized by what the characters would do to give the Capitol their come-uppins and it kept me engaged.
Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed the story, it also let me down at the end. Everything was setup for a truly spectacular ending and I was frothing at the mouth when it seemed I would get the finale I was hoping for (ala Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.). But sadly, the YA mark left its stain on me a little because it finished with a gigantic puss-out. While my wife would like the ending, I was left feeling a tad cheated.
Don’t get me wrong, I still highly regard this book and the author’s skill in entertaining me… I was just bummed by the fizzle at the end. I almost bought Catching Fire, the next book in the series, but I refrained. Why? Not because of the ending but more due to the fact that I didn’t identify with any characters, thus leaving me not caring too much what happens to them next. I left this last bit till the end because I realize this is an entirely subjective opinion. I see where Katniss would appeal to the YA reading crowd (coming-of-age girl who dazzles the world with her uncovered beauty, smarts and irresistibility). But I just didn’t find her engaging enough to me to continue.
So, while I enjoyed the book contained within itself, I was too let down by the ending and not invested in the characters enough to continue through the series. However, I do recommend it to anyone who enjoys post-apoc!
West of Eden by Harry Harrison
My good camping buddy picked this book up at the Bookbarn and lent it to me when I was finished with Hunger Games. He thought the title might interest me, so I gave it a read – I’m glad I did!
The whole premise is this: what if the dinosaurs never went extinct? How would reptiles have evolved alongside us mammals?
I started reading and at first I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Lots of large paragraphs and sparse dialog. Plus, I’m no fan of the omniscient point of view – I find it very distracting. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the story finally arrived.
Our hero, a pre ice-age boy Kerrick, gets captured by evolved lizard people, the technologically advanced Yilane. Surprised by this form of mammal, and its ability to apparently speak, the Yilane decide to teach him their language. I’ll leave the motives behind this decision to you to discover, but I will say this: the Yilane society and characters are fantastic. My disbelief was thoroughly suspended as I read about them, and of Kerrick’s views on how they differed from humans. Superb stuff!
The whole “cold blooded lizards evolved in the tropics and the mammals in the north were left alone to evolve into humanity” premise was intriguing. I’m no life sciences expert, so the idea works for me. When they clash, the reader sees it all through the omniscient POV and it is satisfying/believable. Maybe I should lay-off my criticism of omniscience for a little while.
I did labor through some of the long descriptions of both Yilane and human life. How they lived, hunted, crafted, etc. Blech.
I think I would have liked to spend a tad more time with Kerrick and some of the other hunters. I felt the cast was quite large and it’s tough to get too attached to anyone when we’re popping around so much. But, that is a minor gripe… And barely noteworthy.
Raised by the Yilane, Kerrick has no home and this is stressed many times. Though I would have preferred more dialog and less internal thoughts on Kerrick’s struggle as an outcast to both societies, I think it worked. My favorite part of all of that was the fact that Kerrick wasn’t taught the ways of the pre ice age hunter until he was a grown man. Because he is the “hero”, we expect him to win his fights… But he doesn’t. Well, sorta. I’ll let you discover this on your own as it is very well done and believable. Kudos to Mr. Harrison for keeping our hero within the bounds he set.
Though the climax was awesome (one of the best endings I’ve read in quite some time), it did tickle my gamer’s mind a tad. In Master of Orion and Civ, we utterly destroy our opponents. It’s the only way to be sure. With the extreme hatred between the humans and Yilane, I was a tad surprised by a decision at the end, but not enough to leave me unsatisfied. If you can plow through the walls of text, West of Eden is an enjoyable read.
So, that’s that!
Last year, I didn’t like the books I read, so I’m glad to report better entertainment value this year. I’m also currently re-reading Neuromancer and enjoying my ride so far. It’s been many years and it still deserves more recognition than it gets. Perhaps I’ll review it once I’m done.