**spoiler alert** Ok. That was an intense week. This series is like a non-stop roller coaster ride of death from the first page to the very last. Did**spoiler alert** Ok. That was an intense week. This series is like a non-stop roller coaster ride of death from the first page to the very last. Did I mention the death? Because there is a whole lot of it. I've heard there have been mixed reviews of this final book, and I'm going to guess they mostly have to do with the ending, so before I read those reviews, here's what I thought about the finale.
It's almost impossible to end a dystopian story in a satisfying way. One of the main reasons to tell this kind of tale is to level a critique upon the present day (usually a scathing one), either to make the reader see how the fictional horrors reflect upon our own world, or warn us about the horrors today's decisions could entail. Ending a dystopia without crushing all remaining hope for humanity's redemption undermines these goals, to some extent, because Hell isn't quite as effective a deterrent if there's some hope of escape. 1984 is pretty much the quintessential example.
However, who wants to read about heros who fight for nothing? And perhaps more importantly, why should we heed a dystopia's warnings when Hell seems inevitable (which it should if the author did a good job)? So maybe it can be appropriate to top off the suffering with a dollop of hope, a la the very, very end of The Road. The trick is to do it in a way that doesn't insult the reader's intelligence by suggesting that evil has been conquered and utopia is finally within reach.
That, if you ask me, is exactly the trick Collins pulled off in this book. Having Coin order the bombing of the children before the mansion and not Snow was an Orwellian, hopeless twist (with a squeeze of Truman/Nagasaki/Hiroshima). That realization removed what, for me, had been a frustrating simplification up until that point, namely that Snow was the Big Bad, the all-powerful antagonist whose defeat would surely end the war and restore peace and love to the galaxy. If Coin killed the kids, though, then she was just another Snow, and if there were 2, then there were many, many more to follow. While depressing, that is a much more satisfying reflection on reality to me: evil is an integral component of humanity, and we will never be free of it. I read Katniss's approval of a final retributional Hunger Games for the children of the Capitol as another statement of this idea. "Nothing will ever change," she thinks in despair.
Of course, the notion of unending evil doesn't necessarily imply that fighting it is futile, only that it too will be without end. I read Katniss killing Coin as Collins' way of saying something like this, and I view the rather hopeful final chapter and epilogue as reminders that the fight is not for nothing.
Speaking of which, I thought those last scenes were beautiful, from Buttercup and Katniss's cross-species catharsis to Katniss's final realization of who she is and why she can't be that person without Peeta. While I admit that I'm kind of a sap and I might need these things in a story, I didn't think they were Spielbergian sugar coatings. As a reader, I also needed to howl in grief (at least vicariously), and I felt those final scenes provided a vague but satisfying answer the question of who Katniss really is, a question that cannot really be answered in a way that isn't vague.
The very final line also resolves one of the more interesting and currently relevant themes of the book: the real, and the lengths we will go to in order to pervert or escape it. Even though the unreality engine Collins chose to excoriate was television and not something a little more current like social media, I think she did an excellent job demonstrating the dangers of inauthenticity. Katniss is powerless as a rebel symbol when she tries to perform, or when others try to spin her. Her true and very real symbolic potency emerges when she is actually enraged over an attack on a hospital, actually sympathetic for an Avox who wants to hear a song. Peeta's ultimate torture was the theft of reality. Without confidence in what was real, he reverted to mindless savagery. I don't think Collins went anywhere new with this in the final book, but I was happy to see that it remained a vital part of the story. Real or not real?
I don't actually have many complaints. I guess it went on a little long, and there were some parts that definitely made the suspension of disbelief sag: Katniss's unbelievable hunting skill, uneducated miner's children knowing about DNA, the largely conventional nature of warfare and the absence of terrorism. The constant violence definitely wore me down a bit as well, and it would seriously make me hesitate to recommend this to kids under 15 or so. But really, on the whole, it was exciting, poignant, meaningful, and even interesting. Highly recommended to everyone. I'm teetering on the edge of 5 stars.
Update: Ok, I've been reading some reviews. I think Abby makes a good (if brief) case against, and Meredith makes an equally good (if not equally brief) case for. Laura Miller's analysis of modern YA dystopic fiction in the New Yorker is also interesting reading, even if I don't necessarily agree with the argument that this series was morally handicapped by an upbeat ending....more
**spoiler alert** Loved it, though I admit I rolled my eyes a bit when I learned they were headed back to the arena. The scene where Katniss speaks to**spoiler alert** Loved it, though I admit I rolled my eyes a bit when I learned they were headed back to the arena. The scene where Katniss speaks to the people of District 11 and they silently salute her in the District 12 way was beautiful, and perfectly completed when the Peacekeepers take the leader of the salute and shoot him in the head. Collins, you are sick, and totally awesome. I think I'll save most of my thoughts for the Mockingjay review, though......more
Tight, unrelenting action drama in post-apocalyptic fascist middle America! Plug that into the YA hype machine, and, well, you have my attention, butTight, unrelenting action drama in post-apocalyptic fascist middle America! Plug that into the YA hype machine, and, well, you have my attention, but also my squinty-eyed, brow-furrowed skepticism, and since squinty and furrowed is my de facto demeanor, I'm talking some serious squint and furrow. Which made it all the more satisfying to realize, many pages in, that this book is pretty damn good. The pace is terrific, slowing when appropriate but never stuck. This has much to do with Collins' minimalism in describing the world and her characters. Much like Katniss and her family, the story survives on little more than the necessities. Collins doesn't linger too long on exposition or painting exquisite backdrops, which in one sense creates an impoverished environment not unlike The Road, but is not so denuded of humanity that it invokes the horror or hopelessness McCarthy might have been looking for. I cared about Katniss, and while I wasn't sure of her fate, I believed she could win out.
That minimalism is also the main flaw of the book. The constant struggle for survival doesn't leave a lot of room for personality. Katniss is a tough-skinned pragmatist with conscience, Peeta is a shy boy in love, Prim and Rue are just innocent little girls, but what are these people really like? If particularities compose a person, these people barely qualify. Katniss can be hot-headed (firing arrows at the Gamemasters), sentimental (flower burial), and righteous (defying the games), but I've yet to see the essential Katniss-ness these actions delineate, or more importantly, I've yet to get the sense that there something there to figure out.
That, however, is a minor qualm in a YA action novel, especially after only one book in a trilogy. There's a lot more to appreciate here as well. As other reviewers have pointed out, Katniss's self-awareness and the reality TV aspects of the Hunger Games are both interesting and well done. The real and the unreal, the ironic and authentic become ever more entangled as Katniss realizes how important performance is to her survival, but, as always, bending the truth costs her in ways she hadn't predicted. Hoping for more of this in the next books, which I just picked up. Looking forward to getting back to Panem.
Re-read in 2011 Loses nothing on a second read (or, I'm guessing, a third, fourth, fifth...). Saw the pics of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss a few days ago and decided I need to re-affirm my own imagery of Katniss and Panem before this movie tries to supplant it. I think Lawrence looks great as Katniss, but I'm a bit concerned about this projected PG-13 rating. There is a lot of very relevant violence in this series. I'm also hoping they shoot most of it in a realist style to contrast with the way the Capitol portrays events. Capitol footage should be like X-Men, everything else like Winter's Bone. Chances of this happening are slim to nil, but I can hope....more
When one of your favorite authors AND one of your favorite bands reference the same post-apocalyptic scifi novel from the 80s that just happens to havWhen one of your favorite authors AND one of your favorite bands reference the same post-apocalyptic scifi novel from the 80s that just happens to have been written by the author of one of your favorite childhood picture books, you pretty much have to read said novel. So I did. Eventually. And it was ok. Trying to figure out how our world ended and what the new world was like based on the perceptions of someone who speaks a highly modified descendent of English was fun. Wading through the endless revelations, half-baked philosophizing, and inexplicable decisions was not. Riddley seemed to change his outlook and allegiances by the hour. Why did he befriend Lissener? Why did he think following around a ranting mutant was a good idea? The desire to inch back toward humanity's past glories seemed to motivate him for a chapter or two, but the rest of the time he just seemed to follow other people around.
Aside from the language, I enjoyed the idea of humanity's cycle of self-destruction, but you can get that and monks in A Canticle for Leibowitz. I'm intrigued by the epigraph from apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, since I'm about to jump into The Gnostic Gospels and I feel like Riddley's final philosophy is a bit similar to Pagels' introductory description of gnosis: "Its the not sturgling for Power thats where the Power is. Its in jus letting your self be where it is" (p. 197), i.e. knowledge, power, and enlightenment aren't external forces to be sought or placated but internal characteristics to be realized and earned ("No mothership will save you!"). There was also talk in the beginning about things within us that are not us that seemed reminiscent of an internal God. Maybe I'll see some clearer parallels after reading Pagels.
**spoiler alert** Biology, ethics, and speculative fiction, all in one well-written novel? God's wounds, 'twas practically written for me! Ah, the sol**spoiler alert** Biology, ethics, and speculative fiction, all in one well-written novel? God's wounds, 'twas practically written for me! Ah, the solipsism of enjoyable reading.
In rough outline, this is an unremarkable dystopia-leading-to-apocalypse kind of story: in the near future, bioengineering has run wild, people design their kids, eat exclusively manufactured food, and spend most of their lives getting high, having sex, and selling shit. Consumed by our own sins, cautionary tale, yadda yadda. Idiocracy with a higher thread count. BUT there are some odd quirks and a bunch of wonderful little details that make it fun and interesting.
One thing that struck me was the absence of a classical hubris motif. Hurbis is generally the point of tales where technology runs amok, but Atwood doesn't seem particularly interested. If this book was about humanity overextending its reach, the pigoons would have rebelled, or the ChickieNubs would have developed intelligence and become mind-controlling brain parasites. Instead, Atwood's apocalypse isn't an unforeseen consequence of humanity's powers, but the very deliberate application of those powers in the form of a man-made plague.
That said, Atwood clearly has a stance regarding the ethical limits of bioengineering, namely that the people of this world have stepped far beyond them. The passage that grossed me out the most was the introduction of the ChickieNob:
What they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin. Out of it came twenty thick fleshy tubes, and at the end of each tube another bulb was growing.
"What the hell is it?" said Jimmy.
"Those are chickens," said Crake. "Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They've got ones that specialize in drumsticks too, twelve to a growth unit."
"But there aren't any heads," said Jimmy. He grasped the concept [...:] but this thing was going too far. At least the pigoons of his childhood hadn't lacked heads.
"That's the head in the middle," said the woman. "There's a mouth opening at the top, they dump the nutrients in there. No eyes or bek or anything, they don't need those."
The best part of this sequence is that despite Jimmy's disgust, pretty much the only foods he seems to eat for the rest of the book are pizza and ChickieNobs.
I'm not entirely sure how to reconcile these cautionary elements with the lack of a classical hubristic storyline. One interpretation might be that the semi-divine powers on display aren't intrinsically bad or undeserved (the Crakers seem alright, after all), but that they could be hideously misapplied if used thoughtlessly. Another might simply be that Atwood does consider the reach for this power to be hubristic, and that Crake agrees and decides to take on the retributional role of absent deities.
Another point of confusion for me was how completely unsympathetic Jimmy was as a character. The guy is a pitiful, self-absorbed, sex-crazed loser. Granted, that seems to be Atwood's view of this society at large, which is fine with me, I'm willing to be that cynical for a few hundred pages, but why the protagonist? So that we feel our own potential complicity in the sad state of our potential future? His only redeeming feature seems to be his capacity for guilt, but it's never enough to spur him towards action. Other reviews point out that he's the only fleshed out character in the novel, but winning the Least Likely To Be a Cardboard Cutout Award does not a human make. He never grows up, and it's hard to summon much sympathy for manchildren.
Furthermore, what is up with Oryx? Unlike Jimmy (and Crake, ultimately), she doesn't seem to believe anything. She's morally neutered. She wants and takes things (pizza, Jimmy), but she has no interest in the past, in anger. Without her, Jimmy wouldn't have someone to long for, and Crake might not have been able to goad Jimmy into shooting him, but aside from that, what role is she playing?
I thoroughly enjoyed some of the horrific and satyrical details thrown in. In addition to the ChickieNobs, there was a casual mention of "keeping a for-harvest child or two stashed away in some illegal baby orchard," and the excellent Blood and Roses game, in which you elect to stop an atrocity from happening by trading a human achievement, erase Pol Pot in exchange for habeas corpus, for example. Jimmy takes awesome courses like "Applied Logic" and "Relativistics and Advanced Mischaracterization." Animal snuff shows. Porn of every flavor. Oh so bitter.
Words are a big deal in this book, mostly because Jimmy collects them in a futile attempt to preserve the vestiges of a civilization lost even before everyone died. Strangely, though, I often found Atwood's language a bit off, like a Brit doing a failed Yankee impression. Americans do not say "bum" to refer to any part of human anatomy, for example. Nor do we say "bottom." Unless we are making fun of Brits. We also do not say "What the shit?" Anyway. The words.
norn (n): the Norse equivalent of the Greek Fates. (p. 68)
pibroch (n): genre of Scottish music played in the bagpipes. Example (not sure why they're standing in the bushes). (p. 68)
lubricious (adj): lecherous, or smooth and slippery. One of those words I'm constantly learning and forgetting. (p. 68)
incarnadine (adj): pink, red (p. 85)
helot (n): "a member of the lowest class in ancient Laconia" sayeth dictionary.com. Apparently Laconia was the Greek state that contained Sparta. (p. 248)
**spoiler alert** Another book I read a long time ago, but this one I remember loving. Priests! Deserts! Extra heads! I may have read this after havin**spoiler alert** Another book I read a long time ago, but this one I remember loving. Priests! Deserts! Extra heads! I may have read this after having watched the Babylon 5 episode which borrows from it heavily, but there's much more to enjoy in Canticle, particularly the more depressing viewpoint (we will destroy ourselves, rebuild ourselves, only to destroy ourselves again). Man, I should re-read this....more
Year of the Flood provided many of the comforting amenities I found lacking in Oryx and Crake: likeable characters, some secret-society-style mystery,Year of the Flood provided many of the comforting amenities I found lacking in Oryx and Crake: likeable characters, some secret-society-style mystery, and old school adventure in the post-apocalypse portions. Whereas O & C was predominantly about world-building, satire, and a bit of consciously over-the-top doomsaying, Year of the Flood dealt more with character and narrative, making it a more satisfying, if somewhat less thoughtful, read.
Oryx and Crake follows the privileged upper classes, denizens of the enclosed corporate enclaves that have profited from pushing bioengineering to horrific but lucrative extremes (why Atwood chose to focus on biotech and not more obviously evil corporate empires from the energy or military sectors I don't know). As an educated middle-class American reader, it was pretty clear these were the kinds of people I'd probably end up with, and since they basically bring about the end of the world, it didn't feel all that great being accused crimes against nature, petty vanity, and slavery to consumerism. Not that I'm denying the validity of these claims. It just stings a bit.
Year of the Flood examines the other side of the coin, denizens of the pleeblands, the semi-savage interstices outside the gated enclosures, where sex, crime, violence, and fanaticism aren't just subtexts to everyday life like they are on the inside: they're the main show. These are the corporations' serfs, their captive consumers, their guinea pigs. They're not exactly innocent, but they are certainly underdogs, and their struggles are thus considerably more comforting to follow.
On top of that, Year of the Flood just has sympathetic characters. Almost all of the Gardeners seem more personally interesting and forgivable than Jimmy, Oryx, or Crake. And things happen to them! Not horribly mundane and recognizable things like familial disintegration and feelings of inadequacy, but horribly violent things and acts of heroics! These are people we care about having adventures!
One of the more perplexing aspects of this book is how sympathetic Atwood seems to be toward religion. I'm not talking about spirituality or the power of faith itself or natural awe or any of the other vagaries we secular types generally reach for when trying to fill the religion-shaped holes in our lives, but honest-to-God, irrational, maddening, irritating, dogmatic religion. Granted, the religion of the Gardeners is the most ridiculously lefty flavor of Christianity you could imagine, but it's still filled with psalms and preaching and worship, and really, it is not criticized. Adam One is a benevolent cult leader, whose teachings about loving the Earth and living a moral life really stay with the characters and help them when they go astray. He doesn't secretly molest the kids, and while some of the flock question his means, none of them reject his faith as being unnecessary or harmfully irrational. While it was somewhat obvious in Oryx and Crake that the "good guys" (if they existed) would counter the scientific hubris of the corps, I was definitely not expecting religion to play a significant role in humanity's redemption. Weird....more
Well, that was fun, mostly ridiculous, and a bit fuzzy toward the end (what the hell is all this tower nonsense? What does it have to do with the restWell, that was fun, mostly ridiculous, and a bit fuzzy toward the end (what the hell is all this tower nonsense? What does it have to do with the rest of the book?). Mostly I just wanted to know what caused the apocalypse, and why magic seems to exist in a world that used to be our own. Is it worth reading the next book to find out? ...more
I absolutely love this series. This final volume was, well, equal parts anticlimax and wrenching anguish. I'm fine with the anticlimax. The series hasI absolutely love this series. This final volume was, well, equal parts anticlimax and wrenching anguish. I'm fine with the anticlimax. The series has never really been very strong in plot, relying more on its excellent characters and hilarious dialogue, so going out with a sigh is fine by me. The wrenching anguish was not fine by me. I like happy endings, ok authors of the world? Isn't real life depressing enough?...more
What's this, literature? Must be Christmas booty. And indeed it is. I remember reading that Harold Bloom freaking loved McCarthy, and this book is ostWhat's this, literature? Must be Christmas booty. And indeed it is. I remember reading that Harold Bloom freaking loved McCarthy, and this book is ostensibly science fiction, regarding a father and son making their way across a post-apocalyptic wasteland, so it has to be sort of good right? Not really. What this book is is bleak. Really bleak. Occasionally horrific, always beautifully written, but monotonously, droningly bleak. I didn't go in hoping for Mad Max or something, or even a plot. I just wanted a little more than constant, unending suffering. Maybe some hint at a thought, a message, beyond, "You can suffer more than you think . . . and canned peaches are actually kinda good." Ah well, probably well above my head. Last McCarthy for me, thanks....more