Showing posts with label Suzanne Collins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Suzanne Collins. Show all posts

Monday, May 29, 2017

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

In this closing volume of the trilogy, Katniss is prevailed upon to be the propaganda queen of the rebellion, which irks her. The by now rather bloodthirsty Katniss wants to fight, but she agrees to be a figurehead on condition that all the surviving Hunger Games victors are granted immunity and she herself is granted the sole right to kill President Snow.

She's relegated to the task of being a pretty face in films, but what she did not count on is Peeta appearing as the propaganda king for President Snow, even though it's obvious he has been brainwashed. He compatriots realize that this burden of what has happened to Peeta is hampering her effectiveness, so they organize a rescue upon which she is not allowed to go. The rescue is successful, but the brainwashing is deeper than anyone imagined. Peeta really does believe the propaganda he was spewing, and he tries to kill Katniss when they meet. This part was included as the finale to the second volume in the movie series.

They set Peeta on a long, slow, painful road to recovery, and in time, he becomes well enough to join them in the fight against the capital. Eventually, Katniss also takes up a weapon and begins to fight, becoming one of the important assault teams on the capital after a propaganda shoot in what was supposed to be a safe part of the capital goes completely south.

They set themselves the mission of hunting down and killing the president. Katniss's team is heavily mauled, losing soldier after soldier. Katniss becomes separated and finds herself on her own as she closes in on the president's residence, which is now housing children in the hope that it will prevent the rebels from bombing it. She espies a hover plane with capital markings dropping supplies to the children, but the parachutes explode, killing scores of them, including Katniss's young sister Prim.

This is more than Katniss's over-stressed and weakening psyche can take. The victorious President Coin, of the rebel army, orders a Hunger games using the capital's children. While waiting to take up her role of executioner in the public display of President Snow's capital punishment, Katniss encounters Snow by accident awaiting her killing him. He informs her that he did not order the parachute bombing of the children. He reminds her that he and she agreed some time ago never to lie to one another, and his explanation that if he'd had access to a hover plane he would have used it to escape (but we’re never told to where!), and that he had no reason to assassinate children and turn everyone against him rings true to Katniss. Snow indicates that the bombing was Coin's idea.

Katniss remembers that her longtime friend Gale had once arranged a trap which is disturbingly reminiscent of the attack on the children but when she confronts him, he denies responsibility. At the execution, Katniss spares Snow and shoots her arrow into Coin, instead, killing her. There is chaos after this, during which Snow himself is killed. Katniss is tried for the murder of president Coin but is acquitted by reason of insanity and is sent home to district 12 where she eventually takes up residence with Peeta, not too far away from Abernathy's home. The three of them write a book honoring the combatants in the Hunger games and the ensuing war.

As time passes and the raw edges ease, Katniss and Peeta have children and life assumes a vague semblance of normality, but Katniss dreads the day when she will have to tell her children the truth about what she did in the games and in the war.


Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

After their victory in the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are sent on a 'victory tour' which is nothing but propaganda. Before they depart, President Snow himself visits Katniss for a threatening heart-to-heart. Snow is concerned that her actions in the games have inspired the districts to rebel, and it is now all on her to quell that rebellion by her behavior on the tour. Unfortunately for Snow, the first stop on their tour is District 11, the same district from which young Rue hailed, and to which Katniss sent a signal of solidarity upon Rue's death, a fate which she both witnessed and avenged.

After Katniss's speech, the crowd responds, starting with someone whistling the mockingjay riff, and everyone salutes Katniss. After the tour, they visit the capital and are again featured on Caesar Flickerman's show, where Peeta publically proposes to Katniss on air in an attempt to placate President Snow. But none of this prevents unrest in the districts which become more and more agitated, bordering on open rebellion.

Back in District 12, glad to be home and out of the limelight, Katniss takes time to herself in the woods around her home and encounters two people who are fleeing the authorities from District 8. They tell her that they believe that District 13 was not wiped out, and that people still live there - indeed, that it’s a clandestine sanctuary from the influence of the capital.

The next bombshell to drop is that the 75th Hunger games is a Quarter Quell - where something special happens: on this occasion, the contestants will not be selected by lottery, but will be the winners from all of the previous Hunger games. This means, of course, that both Katniss and Peeta will be competing for the second successive year! Katniss determines that she will do whatever it takes to insure that Peeta wins. Peeta determines that he will do whatever it takes to insure that Katniss wins.

The competition is set in a jungle environment this time, not in a forest, and it has been much more manipulated than it was previous year, and much more dangerous. As the games begins, Katniss and Peeta find themselves in an uneasy alliance with another victor, Finnick, and with his aging mentor, Mags. Mags dies, but their party is bolstered with the addition of Johanna, one of those competitors who was especially trained for the games by her district. They also link up with an old couple from District 3 Beetee and Wiress. The latter soon informs them that the arena is a circular, like a clock, and it's divided into sectors, each of which is triggered in succession once every hour, to provide obstacles and dangerous events for them to overcome.

These events soon rob them of Wiress, and Beetee reveals that the electrical discharges they've been experiencing can be harnessed and employed to destroy the encompassing fence, allowing them to escape the arena. Beetee fails to accomplish this, but Katniss manages it, although she's knocked out by the discharge, and she wakes to find herself being flown to freedom in District 13 along with Finnick and Abernathy. Peeta and Johanna were captured, she learns. Later, her friend gale joins her to let her know that he got her family out, but district 12 was bombed into ruins by the capital in retaliation for Katniss's continued flouting of the capital's rules.


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm in process of moving titles from my 'Novel series' page, which will be retired eventually, to the regular blog page. Here's another trilogy. I'm not normally a fan of YA trilogies, but this one was one of the rare and delightful exceptions I've encountered.

This novel - indeed this entire phenomenon - really needs no introduction, since it's been so immensely successful. The only reason I have it here is that I wanted my own review where I can reference it and know it's here and know what it contains!

Thirteen colonies surround the nation's capital in the country of Panem (read: USA). At some point in the past there was a disaster of some sort, which remains unexplained and somehow these colonies (harking back to the original 13 US colonies) were the result of it. At a point after that, some three-quarters of a century ago, the colonies rebelled against the capital, and were brutally put down, one of them (District 13) being destroyed completely, so we're told.

As a punishment for this rebellion, every year since that war, each district has been required to send two young people between the ages of 12 and 18, as a 'tribute' to the capital, where they compete against each other in a vicious survival game, the last one remaining alive being declared victor and being showered with fame and honors, except of course the 'honor' of remaining in the capital where citizens are spoiled rotten, leading lives of frivolity, extravagance, and hedonism.

If you really look at it, none of this makes any real sense, but if you’re willing to put that behind you then the story gets better! The only thing you can really blame this for is that it lamentably spawned a shit-ton of clones, none of which have ever come close to the standing this one has, and some of which (Veronica Roth I'm looking at you) are closer to a joke than to an intelligent and thoughtful adventure.

Our interest in this story begins in District 12, a coal mining district, where Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who illegally hunts for food with a bow (why is it illegal?), and lives in squalor, poverty and endless hunger with her mother and younger sister Primrose. Her father died in a mining explosion. She often hunts with her close friend Gale, a slightly older guy. This year is the 74th Hunger Games, and each young person is required to put their name in either the boy box or the girl box, so that one of each gender will be selected. At least it’s an equal opportunity system, right? No glass ceilings here!

Candidates can put in extra copies of their name; this garners extra food for their family, but also a greater chance of being selected. A representative from the capital arrives to draw the names, and Katniss is horrified when Primrose's name is pulled out. Katniss, knowing that Prim wouldn’t survive the first five minutes of the contest quickly volunteers in place of her sister. She expects to die, and before she leaves, she begs Gale to take care of her mom and Prim. Given how close Gale and Katniss are supposed to be, and given that Gale has been putting his name into the draw extra times, you would think that he'd immediately volunteer to be her partner, but he does not. I found this rather revealing about what would happen later.

However, we also learn that Peeta Mellark, a baker's son, who tossed some bread to a starving Katniss some time before, is all but in love with her, yet he doesn't volunteer either; however, he does get picked as the male candidate, which is an amazing coincidence. Given the potential result of the games that year, it’s also amazing that there never has been a year when all candidates died!

After an all-too-brief goodbye, Katniss and Peeta are forced to board the express train to the capital. Before then, Katniss rails on her mother, who went into shock when her husband died, forcing mothering duties onto Katniss. Now her daughter gets in her face and yells at her, ordering her not to tune out if Katniss dies, because Prim needs her. On the train, the tributes meet Haymitch Abernathy, the victor of the 50th Hunger Games, who is now a professional layabout and a drunk, but he's supposed to be their coach! Katniss is still in a state of shock, but Peeta seems to be 'getting it' and playing the part of a candidate, trying to ingratiate himself with Abernathy and then with the capital populace.

They arrive in the city, overwhelmed by it all. They have a 'style' team assigned individually to each of them, and Katniss bonds quite closely with her team. Her style coach is Cinna who takes her under his wing and tries a very daring approach to their appearance at the opening night - a public exhibition of the twelve teams, viewed by a massive audience, not only in the capital, but also in the districts via public TV screens set up especially for the event.

On a show devoted to the games, each candidate is interviewed by popular TV personality Caesar Flickerman. This is their one big chance to win over the public in the hope of garnering sponsors who can help them during the games by sending in helpful gifts to aid their chosen tribute. These gifts can be food, medicine, or anything else the tribute might need to help them survive and win. The gifts are sent floating down to the tribute on a parachute. Katniss has a hard time adapting to this showmanship, but when Peeta is interviewed, last of all the tributes, he confesses his love for Katniss, and this immediately sets them apart and makes them memorable and popular, as "star-crossed" (and yes that is so overused in novels these days it's nauseating) tragic lovers, one of whom must die, although Katniss thinks he simply said it as a ploy to win sponsors.

Eventually, the games begin. The twelve candidates are arrayed around a giant cornucopia containing supplies and weapons to help the tributes in their respective killing sprees Abernathy has advised Katniss and Peeta to get away from the initial carnage - to not even try to grab anything, but to flee from it and hide. He advised Katniss to play to her strengths, living off the land, staying out of the way as the other tributes whittle each other down. The slaughter is horrific, with almost fifty percent of the tributes dying right there at the start.

Katniss follows Abernathy's advice, but she manages to snag a backpack with some useful things in it, and she gets away and hides out in trees. She uses her hunting skills, and desperately tries to find water to slake her terrible thirst in the hot and dry forest in those first few days. After a day or two, she runs into Rue, a diminutive tribute from District 11, who reminds Katniss of Prim. She takes Rue under her wing, forming an alliance, which would seem to be of benefit only to Rue, yet Katniss learns some useful things from her little partner.

She's disturbed to find that Peeta appears to have formed his own alliance, with a group of tributes from the richer districts, which can afford to specially train their best people for the games, and whose tributes frequently win. But Peeta is playing on Katniss's team, and he gives Katniss and desperately needed break when he actually does have a chance to kill her.

To Katniss's horror, despair, and anger, her little friend Rue is killed with a spear, a death for which Katniss immediately exacts revenge with a knee-jerk loosing of an arrow at Rue's attacker. Things really start to get out of hand as Katniss sings an old nursery rhyme to Rue as she dies, before collecting flowers, and placing them on her chest, laying Rue's hands gently over them. She raises her hand in a signal of respect to District 11, and this signal becomes a rallying call.

As Katniss is beginning to fall into despair over Rue's death, an announcement comes over the speakers which are all over the artificial games arena: there has been a change of rules which now permits any two tributes from the same district to win as a pair. This fires Katniss up to seek out Peeta, and she eventually discovers him badly wounded, and hiding beneath one of his amazingly-painted disguises.

Katniss nurses him back to health, playing the part a girl in love to curry favor with sponsors, and it works. Peeta recovers and they manage to kill the last tribute, remaining as the sole two game winners, but the organizers cruelly change the rule again, trying to force the two of them to battle it out to the bitter end. Katniss rebels against this and she and Peeta agree to swallow the poisonous berries, but the organizers chicken out at this, not daring to have a game with no winner. Katniss and Peeta are declared to be the first joint winners of the games.

Abernathy warns Katniss that she has now painted a target on her back by defying the game organizers in front of the entire Hunger Games audience. So the author achieved a satisfying ending to the first volume, without leaving an unnatural cliff-hanger, and without making the first volume nothing more than a prologue. YA authors could learn a lot from Suzanne_Collins, but she's also now in the unenviable 'Rowling' position of having reached her peak with her first real effort, and seemingly having nowhere to go, but downhill from here! You can't win in this game, can you?!


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins





Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: Worthy!

Note that there's an excellent trivia resource on the Hunger Games wiki.

Once again Collins takes the same story as she used in The Hunger Games and which she respun as Catching Fire, and she twists it once more into Mockingjay. Even so, it’s different and just as engrossing. That takes some skill. As Katniss confirms when she gives voice to the sentiment, this is the 76th Hunger Games, and the arena this time is all of Panem, but in particular it’s the capital.

Mockingjay, clearly a direct reference to Katniss after her interview with Caesar Flickinger in Catching Fire (itself clearly a direct reference to that same incident) begins in ashes - the ashes of District 12, bombed and burned by the Capital in reprisal for Katniss's continuing rebellion. Katniss insists, against the wishes of the leaders of District 13 where she now resides with her family, upon visiting the district to punish herself over the hundreds and hundreds who died there because of her. Mockingjay's chapter 18 seems clearly to have been the underlying influence on the Divergent novel's use of chemicals to stimulate fear.

I can see how President Snow (who had a rose left behind for Katniss in the only part of 12 which was not bombed) would want to punish, but if the Capital is so dependent upon coal, then it makes absolutely no sense to completely and irreversibly destroy the coal district and those who produce this resource. This district was not rebelling. It was incapable of doing so, yet Snow had it destroyed and along with it the miners and along with that all coal production. Collins presents this as a direct punishment to Katniss, but Collins fails to address this particular issue. This vindictive destruction becomes even more incomprehensible in light of what ensues, and I have to wonder two things: is President Snow completely deranged, and was the capital was lying about its coal dependence? Were they merely making the miners go through the motions, just working pointlessly for the sake of it? If they were not, then how are they replacing that evidently-needed coal?

The only thing Katniss recovers from District 12 (Diss 12 now?!) are a few personal effects from her victors' home, including Buttercup, Prim's cat, before she has to return to Diss 13 and to her growing nightmares, the largest of which is knowing that Peeta is a prisoner of President Snow, but this issue is resolved very speedily - another remarkable example of how well Collins has constructed this trilogy. Once Katniss is back in the strictly disciplined and organized Diss 13, it seems in many ways a microcosm of everything which was wrong with the previous regimen, what with strict rules, and having your daily schedule tattooed on your wrist each morning to be washed off only at night.

Let me say a quick word about Collins's use of 'Capitol' to describe the capital of Panem, because I found it unnecessarily confusing, an I have to wonder if Collins herself understands the difference between capital and capitol, since both words derive from the same Latin root, meaning 'head'. I think capitol is a very American word. I don't hear any nation use this outside of the Americas. Capitol refers strictly to a building where the state legislature meets, and perhaps the judicial branch, too (so much for separation!). It doesn't mean the same thing as 'capital', which is the principle city of a nation, the one which is typically the seat government for that nation. In order not to perpetuate the potential confusion and misinformation Collins may have launched by this lax choice of words, I intend to use 'capital' to refer to the principle city of Panem, and only use 'Capitol' when I need to, or when I'm quoting directly from her novels. But I don't want to make this a capital offense, or derive any capital from it, okay? Capital!

Katniss is shocked when called to witness a capital broadcast which features Peeta - a very healthy and well-looking Peeta, quite contrary to the one she saw in her nightmares, one who was bloody and punished. Peeta calls for a cease-fire, claiming that both he and Katniss were unwitting victims of rebel manipulation in the 75th games. This is supposed to affect Katniss, turning her into putty in their hands, but it has the opposite effect. Before, she had resisted becoming a symbol of the resistance - becoming the Mockingjay - but after seeing this broadcast, she now resolves to be precisely what Diss 13 has asked her to be - the symbolic leader of the resistance. She reasons that any other action will plunge them back into the horrific subjugation which has haunted everyone's life through 75 years and infinite tears.

Prior to making this decision, Katniss had fled the broadcast and hidden in one of several locations where she has gone to ground during those times when she is unable to deal with her misery and stress. Gale finds her there and they sit and talk. He and she have begun to resume their previous relationship: close friends, each someone to whom the other can talk about anything. This is where Katniss makes her decision, but the most important thing either of them says doesn't come from Katniss's mouth but from Gale's: "If I could hit a button and kill every living soul working for the Capitol, I would do it. Without hesitation."

The importance of what Gale says here in terms of defining the inevitable result of the star-cross'd triangle which is ongoing between Gale, Katniss and Peeta cannot be over-stressed. Those few words circumscribe what must become of the three of them. Again Collins has done this masterfully: she slips this understandable assertion of Gale's so sweetly into his outburst, ostensibly innocuous, but portending completely how this story must play out from here onwards. Beautifully done!

Collins continues to please the further we progress into this story. Fulvia Cardew, one of the refugees from the Capital wants to get Katniss all dolled-up in dramatic make-up with fake injuries and a knightly outfit that looks like it came right out of a manga version of the story of Jeanne d'Arc. This doesn't work for Katniss, but it's Haymitch who calls "Bullshit!" on it and eventually they cave and allow her to be herself. She's flown to Diss 8 to visit a hospital, but what her minders don't know is that the capital is about to bomb the hospital. Katniss fights back with her super bow (a tur-bow?!) - which is straight out of Hawkeye's weaponry in The Avengers - and brings down some Capital ships (lol!). Now they have all the "propo" (propaganda) they want and they derive a bunch of video from this one incident, of Katniss being heroic and defiant.

It's right after these start going out that Katniss learns what the Capital has truly done to Peeta. She sees another of their propos and Peeta looks sleepless and in pain. They have clearly been torturing him. Clearly the initial video was taken some time before to trick Katniss into thinking he was being well taken care off. When she didn't swallow that, they hit her with the truth - as they want her to see it - and this video has exactly the effect that the Capital has sought all along: it makes Katniss fall apart. She saw the video with Finnick, who advised her not to mention it to anyone lest they think she will lose it if she hears of Peeta's torture. But she notices that no one mentions it to her, either, not even Gale, who she thought she could trust.

Here's where we find another choice sentence from Collins. The leader of Diss 13 is Alma Coin, who is hardly better than President Snow, and Katniss is giving Gale a hard time for not telling her about the Peeta video. She yells at him: "They were right. It did. But not quite as sick as you lying to me for coin." I love that sentence (even though it is grammatically a horror story) because of the double-entendre. Is he lying to her for Coin (Alma Coin, the president of Diss 23) or is he lying to her for coin (because he's bought into / in the pay of the rebel propaganda? You cannot beat a good double meaning like that. It's in the best tradition of George Orwell's 1984. Whether Collins intended it that way is another matter!

Well, I have to say that Collins, notwithstanding her prowess with selling us this trilogy, is yet another writer who doesn't understand the difference between 'titled' and 'entitled'. Having said that, of course, there is the fact that language is not words in a dictionary, but what's in use every day in the work places, and play places, amongst the military and the civilians, in classrooms and in nightclubs, and it's changing all the time.

I think this is yet another example of words becoming inextricably entangled. We saw it with 'inflammable' and 'flammable'. We saw it with the rise of 'irregardless', and we're seeing it now as more and more writers confuse 'titled' and 'entitled', and stanch and staunch. It's the same contradictory language that allows us to describe a person we really like by describing them as both hot and cool. It's the same sick language which allows us to reassure someone by telling them we're fine, but doesn't allow us to tell them we're not fine by describing ourselves as coarse! It's the same paradoxical language that allows us to describe a person as phat and not be even remotely insulting. And yeah, it's the same obscure language that allows us to insult, but not to sult, or even to outsult! O-kay serif serrated....

The next time Peeta broadcasts, it's especially disturbing for Katniss, but not as disturbing for Diss 13 when Peeta warns everyone that a bombing raid is not immanent, but imminent. The entire population, which is living underground anyway, descends to the very bottom level of their subterranean city, which has long been prepared for such a raid. The raid continues for three days, but no one is killed or harmed thanks to Peeta. After this, the powers that be in Diss 13 decide to go rescue Peeta, because without him, Katniss is useless. Some hero, huh? So the raid goes ahead, and as a distraction, Katniss finally pulls herself together long enough to record a brief "I'm alive" kind of message. The real hero this time is Finnick, and why they waited so ridiculously long to employ him is a mystery, because what he has is dynamite.

During his relationship with various people in the Capital, he has sucked up secret after secret about the people there, and now he unveils every last one of them, in particular ones he knows about Snow. Given that not one of these is described in the novel, they're going to have to invent a speech for him when Mockingjay is turned into a movie. These revelations are transmitted right at the time the raid is suppose dot go down in the capital as a distraction, and then there is a horrible wait until Finnick and Katniss get news: Peeta is safe. Gale, who went with the raid, is safe. Annie, Finnick's girlfriend who was held hostage by Snow just like Peeta was (Peeta, honestly?) is safe, and so is Johanna, who, being the only captive who actually knew anything about the rebels' plans, was tortured extensively.

Now, freed from all harm that Snow can conjure up, Katniss needs to deliver as the Mockingjay. Unfortunately, since Peeta has been reprogrammed (using tracker-jacker venom) to hate Katniss, his first response uppon meeting her is to strangle her! So, Mockingjay on hold for few days, Katniss's hatred of Snow ratcheted up another couple of notches (not to be confused with nachos - ratcheting up a few nachos would be a bit weird).

In the first Hunger games in which she took part, Katniss had no choice in going, and she was largely on her own. In the next one, she was part of a team, but she neither knew nor trusted her allies for the most part. In Hunger Games 3.0, as she enters the arena that the capital has now become, she is going in, for the first time, voluntarily; she does know her allies, and she does trust them (all except for Peeta, which is a complete one-eighty from before). This time the price is immensely high because she knows they’re following her, and they're on her side, and she knows they're paying for this with their lives, and unlike in the previous games where most of the deaths took place at least somewhat remotely from her, in this 'games', the deaths are up close and personal, and Snow makes it obvious from the start that he's targeting her directly and very vindictively.

I know that a lot of people gripe about this love triangle between Katniss, and Peeta and Gale, but to me there never was a love triangle, there only ever was Katniss and Peeta. Gale was a non-starter. As I pointed out in my review of The Hunger Games, it was first brought home to me how completely out of the question Gale was by his selfish rejection of joining Katniss in the games. He could have volunteered immediately after she did, but he left her hanging. Katniss had no choice. Both Gale and Peeta did have a choice and both of them chose to reject her. However, once Peeta found himself selected, he directed his every action into saving Katniss. So although he had initially ruled himself out of the running by his failure to volunteer to join her, once he learned that had no choice, he immediately resolved to be Katniss's man all the way, and he never wavered from that resolve.

It took the evil of President Snow to derail Peeta's devotion, but he came back from that, and although he initially failed by not volunteering, Peeta earned the right to be by Katniss's side by his subsequent actions. Gale did not; quite the contrary, in fact. It was Gale who killed the one person Katniss truly did love unreservedly and without question or doubt: Prim. There would never be any coming back from that, but Gale did it anyway in full knowledge of how brutally it would damage Katniss. He did this precisely because he didn’t care about Katniss - or more accurately, because he cared far more about selfish things than ever he cared for her. So the ending for me was absolutely right given everything which preceded it.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins





Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: WORTHY!

Note that there's an excellent trivia resource on the Hunger Games wiki.

One of my pet peeves about 1st person PoV novels is that it makes the narrator look really whiny if they complain about anything. This really turned me off in the obnoxious Sookie Harris novels (and explains why I much prefer the TV show since it’s not narrated at all and the TV Sookie is far from being a maiden in distress, especially lately!). Catching Fire begins a little bit like that, but Collins wisely has Katniss work through her issues without having to throw herself on some studly guy to help her. She's visited by president Snow, who smells of roses and blood, and he's clearly pissed at her. He tells her she doesn’t have to convince anyone that she's honestly in love with Peeta - anyone but him that is, and if she fails, the consequences will be dire.

This same strategy I think fails somewhat in the sequel, Mockingjay because it becomes too much to read. This is a serious problem with 1st person PoV novels, and one of several reasons I dislike them so much. Mockingjay was a tough sell, despite The Hunger Games being a runaway best seller. The reason for this was Collins' problem of how to tell the same story twice and get away with it. Clearly she succeeded, adding enough twists and unexpected turns to keep it fresh, but the first part of the book was not so successful IMO. It was dragging and slow, but it was necessary because the ground had to be laid for all that comes afterwards. I can't help but wonder how I would have done it had I been trying to sell it, and I doubt I would have brought it off as well as Collins did, so I can't mark her down for that!

Before Katniss has even begun to get settled back into her life (not that she ever can return to what she was, what she had) Katniss and Peeta (seriously? Peeta?) are whisked (yes indeed, whisked they are, and no other word will do) into the traditional Hunger Games winner's district tour. Their first stop is District 11, and Peeta really stirs up trouble (and quite unintentionally) when he pledges one month's victor winnings every year for his lifetime to the families of the two District 11 tributes (Thresh and Rue) who died in the recent games. Katniss feels she has to say something about Rue and Thresh's sacrifice, and this stirs the crowd even more. One old guy raises the three fingered lip touch salute which Katniss showed everyone during the games after Rue died, and soon everyone in that crowd is doing it, and whistling Rue's four-note Mockingjay tune. This act of solidarity turns quickly into a riot in the square and people die including the old guy who started it.

Let me say a quick word about Collins's use of 'Capitol' to describe the capital of Panem, because I found it unnecessarily confusing, an I have to wonder if Collins herself understands the difference between capital and capitol, since both words derive from the same Latin root, meaning 'head'. I think capitol is a very American word. I don't hear any nation use this outside of the Americas. Capitol refers strictly to a building where the state legislature meets, and perhaps the judicial branch, too (so much for separation!). It doesn't mean the same thing as 'capital', which is the principle city of a nation, the one which is typically the seat government for that nation. In order not to perpetuate the potential confusion and misinformation Collins may have launched by this lax choice of words, I intend to use 'capital' to refer to the principle city of Panem, and only use 'Capitol' when I need to, or when I'm quoting directly from her novels.

President Snow is seething with hatred for Katniss as she arrives in the Capital after this tour, even after they've staged a planned "impromptu" proposal of marriage from Peeta (Peeta? What's a 'Peeta', exactly?!) which Katniss accepts. Snow indicates his grievous displeasure to her and it immediately spills into District 12. He fires the existing head "Peacekeeper" and installs a vicious brute with the absurd name of Romulus Thread. Honestly! That's worse than Peeta which was previously my worst name in the trilogy (did you guess?).

Gale is the first victim. He's whipped almost to death when he's caught trying to sell a poached turkey to the head peacekeeper, not knowing that Thread has replaced the previous guy. Katniss's mom saves Gale's life, but Katniss now realizes two things. She's in love with Gale, and she's trapped into a course of action from which she cannot escape. She had been thinking of running, and taking her family with her, but this nastiness brings it home to her with horrific clarity that she cannot abandon the rest of District 12. She starts thinking then in terms of what she can do to foment an uprising like the one which has spontaneously begun in District 8 (which she only learns of by accident). Haymitch is dismissive of her idea, but she will not shed it.

Katniss and Peeta took part in the 74th Hunger Games, but what she has forgotten with all of her self-obsession and everything else that has distracted her is that this year is the Quarter Quell, a very special games held once every twenty-five years. This pattern was supposedly set in stone many years before, after the war. When President Snow reads the news of this year's tournament, taken from a box of numbered envelopes, the news is as outrageous and it is unprecedented. This year, the tributes are to be selected from all the remaining victors from the districts. Katniss believes this was not set in stone at all. She believes that Snow changed envelope number 75 for no other reason than just to get rid of all the victors (it's not called a quell for nothing!), who are symbols of success and perhaps focal points for rebellion.

Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch are hustled onto the train without even being given a chance to say goodbye this year. On the train journey, they watch tapes of the other games. Why tapes? Given the technology in this world, why tapes? I have no idea why Collins would take this backward step unless she was simply not thinking about what she was doing, which is hard to believe given how much planning she put into this trilogy. And how did they even get the tapes? It makes no sense that the capital, which has here instituted the most evil, vindictive, and vicious of games for this year, would offer any assistance at all to the victors, especially given that their aim is no less than the extermination of the victors, yet they have all the tapes they want, and one of them is Haymitch's 50th Quarter Quell games, where double the number of tributes competed, and Haymitch managed to win.

The death toll in the 75th Hunger Games:
1b Gloss - killed by Katniss
1g Cashmere - killed by Johanna
2b Brutus - killed by Peeta
2g Enobaria - captured by capital
3b Beetee - freed by rebels
3g Wiress - killed by Gloss
4b Finnick - freed by rebels
4g Mags - killed by fog
5b Unnamed - Killed at Cornucopia by Finnick
5g Unnamed - killed by tidal wave or muttation
6b Unnamed ("male morphling") - Killed at Cornucopia by Brutus
6g Unnamed ("female morphling") - killed by muttation
7b Blight - killed in force field collision
7g Johanna - captured by capital
8b Woof - Killed at Cornucopia
8g Cecilia - Killed at Cornucopia
9b Unnamed - Killed at Cornucopia
9g Unnamed - Killed at Cornucopia
10b Unnamed - killed by tidal wave or muttation
10g Unnamed - Killed at Cornucopia
11b Chaff - killed by Brutus
11g Seeder - Killed at Cornucopia
12b Peeta - captured by capital
12g Katniss - freed by rebels

The minute Katniss arrives at the capital there are behaviors which ought to make her suspicious, but as usual she doesn't grasp any of what's going on. She's told to make alliances and this time she tries, but what's actually going on is something much bigger than the games. While Katniss believes she has made a deal with Haymitch to protect Peeta, Peeta, Haymitch, and even some of the other tributes have made an alliance to protect Katniss - to protect the Mockingjay.

And now brief word about biology! Collins has us believe that while the Jabberjays were genetically created by the capital to spy on the rebels, they were left to go wild afterwards. It was expected that they would die out, but they did not. Instead some of them mated with mockingbirds to create the Mockingjay. This is patent bullshit! Jays are in the crow family Corvidae. The Mockingbirds are from a completely different family, the Mimidae. While both of these are Passeriformes, a huge order of birds, they are so far apart on the evolution bush that there is no way they would be likely to even physically mate, let alone have issue from the mating. Humans would have a better chance of success mating with chimpanzees (which is to say: none!) than would birds of two different families, which begs the question as to why Collins chose the jays to begin with!

If she was going for smarts, then another member of the Corvidae family might have been a better choice, although all of the Corvidae family have better than average smarts among birds. If she was going for mimicking, which is ostensibly what the capital was after, then why not select the Mimidae family to begin with? In that way at least you're trying to have members of the same bird family mate. But that's just me.

So let the games begin. This time the tributes rise to the surface surrounded by salt water, itself surrounded by a beach, with the cornucopia close by, but Katniss cannot run as she did before. Instead, she swims to the Cornucopia, and runs into Finnick Odair, who protects her. She agrees to make an alliance with him even though she doesn't trust him, because Haymitch had advised her to do so, but he had failed to give her sufficient information on which to base trust, so she simply doesn't trust him even though she allies herself with him. She ends up with a quartet, the other two being Peeta and Mags - a much older woman. Both of these tributes are from District 4, and it turns out that Mags was Finnick's mentor, so the two of them have a special bond. Finnick won the games when he was only fourteen.

The environment this time is very hot and humid. Beyond the beach lies a jungle. There is no fresh water. As the games progresses, the death toll is far higher than it was in the previous year's games. Every hour they discover that a new terror is unleashed upon them. There is a massive lightning storm beginning with a strike on a huge tree which was close by. They move on form that only to be attacked by a fog the next morning - a fog which is some sort of nerve gas. Mags is lost to the gas because Katniss cannot carry her fast enough. The next day they encounter Johanna Mason, someone who Katniss dislikes intensely, but Johanna weirdly tells Katniss that she saved Beetee and Wiress for her. Katniss has no idea what that means.

It's from Wiress's odd chanting of "tick tock" that Katniss realizes that the arena, smaller than previously and circular, is arranged like a clock, divided into twelve segments, each of which spawns a horror on the turn of the hour, and the horrors rotate clockwise. With this in mind, and knowing they can tap water from the trees by means of a spile. which Haymitch sent to them, they start to plan on beating the alliance arrayed against them. Beetee is carrying a spool of wire, and his plan is to hook it to the tree that gets struck when the lightning starts, and run the wire down to the ocean which will electrocute their competitors.

The plan fails when Brutus and his allies attack Johanna and Katniss. Katniss is freaked out when Johanna appears to attack her and then removes the tracking device from her arm, before turning to engage the attackers. Soon Finnick comes charging past to enter the fray. Katniss abandons the two of them and charges back up to the arena wall to find Peeta. She realizes that she can uses Beetee's wire to short-out the arena wall by attaching it to an arrow and firing the arrow into a weak spot which she had learned of during training. This done, she finds herself snatched up by a hovercraft, but the craft contains Haymitch and Plutarch (seriously?), this year's games controller who had oddly interacted with Katniss some time before, during the victor's tour of the districts.

Katniss wants them to get Peeta, but they refuse, and she passes out, only to awaken later to discover that she's being taken to District 13 - the supposedly dead district, which is alive and well. Both Peeta and Johanna have been captured by the capital, and District 12 has been bombed out of existence.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins





Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: WORTHY!

Note that there's an excellent trivia resource on the Hunger Games wiki.

The 2008 novel The Hunger Games is a phenomenon which has spawned a host of imitators from the pale (2013's The Testing) to the execrable (2011's Divergent), but it stands alone as a remarkable achievement in creating a world with motivated and believable characters and engaging (if depressing!) incidents and world-building. It brings two unlikely characters together in a relationship that is as far from the sad YA trope as you can get and it does it well. Imitators can only dream of selling as well as The Hunger Games has sold, and the imitation is sad, because Collins did not achieve her success from imitation, but by coming up with and original idea which was far off the beaten track of other popular YA fiction at the time she published it.

Yes, I know there are those who claim that Collins ripped-off Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, but I don't buy into that any more than I buy into it being a rip-off of Stephen King's The Long Walk.

I haven't read Takami's novel, but I did see the movie and it sucked. It offered nothing even close to what The Hunger Games delivers. I don't know how similar it was to the novel, but if the novel was anything like the movie it must be awful!

The death toll in the 74th Hunger Games:
1b Marvel - killed by Katniss
1g Glimmer - killed by tracker jackers
2b Cato - killed by Katniss
2g Clove - killed by Thresh
3b Unnamed - killed by Cato
3g Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
4b Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
4g Unnamed - killed by tracker jackers
5b Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
5g Unnamed ("Foxface") - nightlock consumption
6b Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
6g Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
7b Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
7g Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
8b Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
8g Unnamed - killed by Cato (Peeta?)
9b Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia by Clove
9g Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
10b Unnamed - killed by career group
10g Unnamed - killed at Cornucopia
11b Thresh - killed by Cato
11g Rue - killed by Marvel

Let me say a quick word here about Collins's use of 'Capitol' to describe the capital of Panem, because I found it unnecessarily confusing, and I have to wonder if Collins herself understands the difference between 'capital' and 'capitol', since both words derive from the same Latin root, meaning 'head'. I think capitol is a very American word. I don't hear any nation use this outside of the Americas. Capitol refers strictly to a building where the state legislature meets, and perhaps the judicial branch, too (so much for separation!). It doesn't mean the same thing as 'capital', which is the principle city of a nation, the one which is the seat government. In order not to perpetuate the potential confusion and misinformation Collins may have launched by this lax choice of words, I intend to use 'capital' to refer to the principle city of Panem, and only use 'Capitol' when I need to, or when I'm quoting directly from her novels.

One thing I missed or forgot from the first time through this novel was just how much Collins packed into her first chapter without it looking like a big fat info-dump. It’s a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t feel that way when reading it, and there is so much in there! It's different from the movie but in this case, this is mostly because they obviously needed to shorten the novel to get it into a movie format. After that, the novel moves rapidly to the Capital action. We spend very little time in District 12. And what a good choice of district - this places Katniss last in the big events in the capital: the parade, and the TV interview, so it lets her (or rather, Cinna, her stylist) pull out the stops and have a huge impact.

So we make it through the interviews and through Katniss's anger at Peeta's revelation. This is very similar to the novel; then the start of the 74th Hunger Games gears up, and it's a bit sad as we follow Katniss up into the arena, and even sadder as the bloodbath begins. I thought this part was as well done in the movie as it was in the novel.

Katniss spends her first night in a Willow tree. She's awakened by a girl snapping twigs to start a fire not too far away, but that girl is quickly taken out by the coalition of the lower-numbered districts. None of this hunting party, which includes Peeta, sees Katniss in the tree. The next day, when she's just about dying of thirst (which seems improbable frankly, in so short a time!) she's wondering why Haymitch hasn’t sent her water and eventually figures out that it’s because he knows she's very near some. Eventually, crawling, she finds it and rehydrates, but she's flushed out of her respite by a roaring forest fire set by the game controllers.

When she starts to relax, having made good progress in escaping the fire, she's set upon by baseball-sized fireballs (which are depicted as being much larger in the movie). One of these grazes her thigh and sets her jacket on fire. She manages to salvage the jacket, but her hands and thigh are seriously burned, and the hunting party is on her trail. She painfully climbs eighty feet up into a tree to escape them. They're all too heavy to follow her up into the smaller branches, and the girl with the bow is a lousy shot. The party camps at the bottom of the tree, planning on waiting her out.

As Katniss ponders her fate, she notices Rue in a nearby tree, also hiding from the hunters. Rue points up above her head, where she espies a hornet's nest (which Lisbeth Salander has not yet kicked, evidently!). These are genetically-engineered insects called 'tracker jackers' because they will hunt down anyone who disturbs their nest. Their stings are lethal if you get more than a modest few, and they cause painful, pus-filled swellings. They were used in the war some seventy years before, but are now largely ignored. The ones around the capital have been cleaned out, but why such a fierce beastie hasn't spread until it became out of control is a mystery.

Unlike in the movie, Katniss at first saws through only a part of the branch holding the nest, and she does it that night. After she climbs back down to her own nest, she finds waiting for her the gift of salve for her burns, which she applies. The next morning, her wounds are very much on the way to healing, and she climbs back up to the hornet nest and finishes sawing it down. The hornets are subdued at night because of the smoking they got from the fire, but in the morning they're recovering. Katniss finishes sawing the branch and the nest drops, but she gets stung three times, and that's more than enough to hurt and make her woozy. Two of the girls from the hunting party die, but the rest of the party escapes with only a few stings to make them miserable.

Katniss has to go back to recover the bow and arrows which one of the dead girls had, and pries them from her stiff fingers. Now well-armed with her knife and her favorite weapon, she re-focuses on her ongoing need for food and water. I think it was a master (mistress?!) stroke on Collins's part to have the arena set up so its every variable is at the whim of the game controllers, but it does create problems in the story overall, not least of which is how the heck do they exert such control, and if they can, then why, exactly, is Panem the way it is?! More on this anon.

So, fully armed now, Katniss pretty much collapses from the stings she received, and there's a lull in the games as the participants all recover from their own painful swellings. Katniss and Rue form an alliance at this point, and share both knowledge and supplies. Katniss zeroes in on their one great strength: the two of them together are by far the best out of the whole group of tributes, at living off the land. If they can destroy the supply cache of the hunters, they will have a huge advantage. Collins obviously put a bit of thought into setting this story up, and this becomes more and more apparent as we progress through her trilogy.

Katniss, having discovered that the area around the hunter's 'supply depot' is literally littered with re-activated land mines, triggers them all by shooting open a bag of apples. This is a bit different from the movie, but the end result is the same, and all hell breaks loose. Without "Foxface"'s contribution, Katniss might have 'come a cropper' as they say, at this juncture. Foxface deserves her own novel! She sure deserved a name (as opposed to an insulting nickname) in this one.

Katniss makes her way back to link up with Rue, only to discover that Rue is trapped in a net. Before Katniss can free her, Rue is savagely struck in the stomach by a spear. This happens the other way around in the movie, with Rue being struck right after she's freed. Katniss instinctively shoots Rue's murderer. Again, this differs slightly from the movie. In the novel, she hits him him in the neck, in the movie, it's in the chest.

Rue dies, thereby conveniently removing the need for Katniss to kill her, which would have been horrible. See what a really solid job Collins has done here, piecing everything neatly together to make a truly satisfying, if gruesome whole? This novel is the work of a seasoned craftsperson, despite a few missteps. Katniss's behavior, respectfully treating Rue as she died, wins her the regard of the District 11 people, who sponsor a loaf of their own bread for her. She thanks them loudly when she figures out where it came from, thus beginning a bond which will serve her well in volume two. The novel also makes the point here of how the gifts become more and more expensive as the games progress - something which goes unmentioned in the movie.

In order to stir things up - as if Katniss hasn't already done so (more like shaken, not stirred!) with her 'funeral ritual' - the game master announces that (apparently for the first time) two tributes can jointly win if they're both from the same district. This means that if Katniss can find Peeta (Peeta, honestly?) then she can team-up with him, revive their 'love thing', and both of them can get home safely. It also means that two of the deadliest remaining tributes can also win, fostering a fierce new competition, which is no doubt what the game controllers desired.

Katniss is forced to wait out the night, but she finds Peeta the next day, half-buried in the mud by a creek, and sick and weak from the wound he sustained at Cato's hands (when Peeta urged Katniss to flee after the tracker-jacker incident, thereby saving her life). She finds Peeta after quite a search, using her smarts and logic as to where he would go, and she takes charge of him, washing the muddy disguise from him, treating his wounds with the remains of her burn salve, and with the plant leaves which Rue had shown her (to suck the poison from the stings). The leg wound is serious, and Katniss realizes that she will need some very expensive capital medicine to fix that for him, but the medication is extraordinarily expensive even under normal circumstances (not that we are given any idea why it's so expensive!). This late in the game, she doubts that anyone could afford to sponsor such a gift.

I have to say a quick word here about capital technology. If they're so very advanced, and they clearly are, then why are they so dependent upon the districts for supplies? And if they're not so dependent, then why do they even bother with the districts? Why not simply ignore them and leave them to fester and rot on their own? I know that Collins based this on ancient Rome, and the decadence and brutality is merely a consequence of that choice, but it really doesn't make a lot of sense if you analyze it. This is why we have to choose not to analyze it too closely if we want to sit back and enjoy it! So while this doesn't affect so very much in volume one of this trilogy, this overwhelming technological advantage becomes increasingly untenable in volumes two and three (particularly in three), given that the capital was able to smash District 12 into a pulp so easily. It begs an explanation as to how the other districts even had a chance, much less find themselves in a position to be putting up such a strong showing of resistance.

Anyway, Haymitch sends Katniss and Peeta some broth (there's no comment along the lines of "Call that a kiss?" to which we were most amusingly treated in the movie). Peeta improves a bit, but he has blood-poisoning. In another bit of inspired writing, Collins tweaks the intrigue yet again. The game controller seizes this opportunity to corral all of the remaining contestants in a confined area again by announcing that there will be a free gift of something each of the tributes needs, but this isn’t strictly true, since there are six people remaining in the arena, and only four gifts - one for each of the Districts represented by those remaining six tributes. Peeta forbids her to go, vowing that he will follow her if she does, but Katniss receives a gift of a knock-out potion from Haymitch, and tricks Peeta into drinking it, so he cannot stop her.

Katniss arrives early and secretes herself in the same hide which Rue had used to spy on the Cornucopia while the tributes were all recovering from their stings. She's not the first there, however, as she discovers when she sees the fox-faced girl (arguably the smartest contestant there) launch herself out of the Cornucopia, where she had been hiding, grab her gift, and hare off safely into the forest. As she gets away successfully, Katniss is annoyed that she didn’t think of that scheme herself, but she also suddenly realizes that she has to go get her gift now, or someone else will take it and she'll be stuck chasing them for it. She reasons that if she takes only her gift and runs, it’s unlikely anyone else will come after her because they will need to get their gift, and with her speed, she believes she can escape, but her logic is flawed. Since there are six contestants and only four gifts, the other district pair can split-up, one chasing her while the other grabs their gift.

As she hauls up her little backpack with the medicine for Peeta in it, she's slammed by Clove, Cato's District partner. Clove laughs as she describes how "they" killed Rue and now Katniss will die, too. Katniss spits blood in her face, but she's pinned helplessly. As Clove is about to cut off Katniss's lips - darkly remarking on her kissing Peeta (Peeta, really?) - Thresh, Rue's District partner, slams into Clove and hammers her in the head in revenge for Rue's death. Clove dies. My question here is how did Clove know that Peeta and Katniss kissed? None in the arena is party to the TV transmissions which everyone outside the arena sees. Again a small weakness in the story, but one which we can let go this time.

Katniss fears that Thresh will kill her next, and she asks only that it be quick, but he tells Katniss that for Rue's sake, he will let her go this one time, then they're even. This seems highly unlikely to me given his personality. He cannot have had any idea what Katniss did for Rue, and he knows that Rue is dead, yet he behaves as though he not only knows exactly what she did, but also as though he's sentimental about it! This was weak (but dramatic!).

So Katniss flees, and later administers the hypo shot to Peeta, who rapidly recovers. The two of them continue to play up to the 'lovers' angle, hoping for more gifts and favorable opinions, but they both seem to realize that it’s not all play; some of their interaction at least, is real. This is followed by a two-day thunderstorm. What’s the point of the rain if it prevents tributes from getting together? I didn’t really understand this bit at all, because it stops the action dead from the perspective of the viewers and controllers (and the reader!). You can argue that this provides time for the controllers to 'grow' the 'muttations' for the finale, but that's not sufficient time to grow a full-sized animal, and if they can generate one that quickly, then they didn’t need the two days anyway. This also goes back to the advanced technology argument I was making above. It does give Peeta (Peeta, really?!) and Katniss a moment together, but that was a bit flat for me. One thing which does happen during the two-day blow is Thresh's death, presumably at the hands of Cato. And then there were four.

Finally we reach the finale! Katniss and Peeta, very refreshed (but with Peeta still weak from his wound) head out to hunt, and this is where "Foxface" meets her demise. She steals berries from their supply, not realizing that Peeta had collected them in ignorance of their lethality. She'd assumed that if Katniss was collecting them, they must be good, and she died for it. Katniss assigns this death to Peeta! This possession of the poisoned berries is important for the ending because they hang onto them, thinking they might induce Cato to poison himself just as "Foxface" did. This is why this section was written, and why Foxface wasn't killed by Cato as Thresh was, "off camera" so to speak. The District Twelve representatives now realize that it’s just them and Cato at the same time as they grasp that they have to confront him. He isn't going to come to them and risk being picked-off at long-range by one of Katniss's arrows. He's going to wait to draw them out, until they step into the open, and then he'll rely on his superior strength to kill them.

The twist here is that, unlike in the movie, it’s not Katniss who's chased by the "muttations", but Cato. She and Peeta are standing around out in the open, near the Cornucopia when Cato hurtles by and scales the structure. He's been chased at length by the mutts (which begs the question as to where he was), and he's the perfect victim at this point, lying helpless on top of the Cornucopia, retching over the side from his exertions, but Katniss fails to kill him, and Peeta fails likewise. Instead, she wastes arrows defending all three of them from the mutts! She didn't even have to kill him directly: she could have simply heaved him over the side! But no. Unlike the movie, this finale is drawn-out a bit too much. Cato recovers and tries to strangle Peeta, but Katniss shoots his hand, and Cato ends up falling over the side. Again, unlike the movie, this is way too drawn out. Cato is wearing some sort of chain mail, and the mutts can't finish him off. This is another weak spot since Cato's head isn't covered: why are the mutts not biting his head off?

We all know how this ends and how it sets the stage for he epic battle between President Snow and resident Katniss in the next two volumes. The boundaries have already been drawn for the next arena - the arena of real life where Katniss and Peeta have defied the game makers and President Snow is pissed off with her, her especially, and determined to destroy her one way or another. This novel is really great entertainment! I rate it worthy!