Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

2008, 374 pages.
Another dystopia describing a gloomy future of North America. Sometimes it seems like the authors are competing on who will create the worse future for this area.
Katniss is a 14 years old girl living in district 12 of what used to be North America and now called Panem. This country is ruled by the Capitol that makes sure no district dares to rebel in a harsh and cruel way. After the last unsuccessful rebellion, the Capitol starts a yearly event called “The Hunger Game”. Every district has to send one boy and one girl to the game, and the winner is the one that stays alive. The game is broadcasts by TV to the whole nation, the Capitol and the districts, and the game makers make sure they have plenty to watch, with lots of blood and violence. Katniss finds herself as a contestant in the game, and the story, told by her, follows her along the game.
The hunger game is influenced by all the reality shows that are so popular today, and it is not hard to see the resemblance. Though theoretically the safety of the contestants is kept in our reality, unlike the one in the book, whenever something happens or almost happens to a contestant, that is all is shown in the teaser to the next chapter, making it very clear that this is what draws the kind of audience that watches these shows and make the rating.
The book is a young adult book. It has a non-complicated plot told in a straight-forward fashion. There is no need for too much concentration to follow this book. Though the characters do not have too much depth, to say the least, it is told in a very captivating way and it is very hard to put the book down, I always felt that I just have to know what happened next.
Usually in these kind of futuristic books there are two kinds of realities, the technologically advanced one with lots of inventions and a primitive one where people are stripped of the privileges we are used of today. This book has both of them. The districts, kept primitive and starved by the capitol, where people spend most of their time in search for food, may times illegally while risking their lives, and the Capitol, rich and advanced, where people look for momentary thrilling pleasure, like fixing their bodies, and following death and violence on the TV. I liked the futuristic description, though a little simplistic, and I could definitely see the present western society turning into the Capitol society of the book.
All in all a nice book, captivating and easy to read, good for a time when needing a book that draws the reader in easily. This is the first book of a trilogy, two were published already and the third and final coming out next month. I will definitely try the second one too.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

2003, 376 pages.
A few days ago there was a note hanging on my door: there’ll be no water today for a few hours. It is going to be a fairly hot day. I prepared a few bottles of drinking water in the refrigerator, tap water in a few pitchers and some buckets of water to flush the toilet. I am still a little anxious: what if that’s not enough? What if there’ll be some problem and the water supply will not return as promised?
It is frightening to realize how fragile we are and how dependent on modern technology. This is the kind of book that both feed and fed from these fears. What happens if one day all the technology we depend on disappears and we have to take care of ourselves? I’ve a few of those lately, like “The Road” and “The Chrysalids”, but I was lucky to keep the best for last, because this book has so much more, and it is so well written, so that it didn’t feel like recycling a used idea.
The story begins with “Snow man”, a man who wakes up on a tree, and seems to live in a world with no technology or modern civilization, where he has to fend for himself in the wild nature. We go back with his memory to his childhood, before the world turned into what it is in his present.
The book reveals the details gradually, along the story line, and any additional detail I will give here will be a spoiler and reduce the pleasure of reading, guessing, and finding out what happened and how. So I will try to write very generally without revealing too much.
Snow-man childhood passed in a world very similar to ours, or what it might look like in the near future, when the global warming and over population will continue to take its toll, and generic engineering will make more development. The author has wonderful imaginative inventions of how things look like in this world.
The story is written in a non-linear form. We start with Snow-mans’ present, go back to his past with his memory, and sometimes to other people’s past, about which he learns while talking to them in his past. Meanwhile we advance with Snow-man’s present. Questions are answered gradually along the way, only to raise new questions and to explain the opening point of the story. Usually I am wary of this kind of story, because when there are so many questions, it is not always clear and the end if all of them were answered, but not in this case. Though there were many questions and mysteries I never felt confused along the book, and at the end I felt that all the questions are answered. It takes a lot of skill to write a book in this form that is still very readable and intriguing, and Atwood did it so well.
This is not an easy read. It is frightening, and it’s so real that it raises the question – could it really happen? But it is well worth it.