My edition leaves out the subtitle and is just called "Tom Swift and His Big Dirigible," but since everyone natters on about how damn dry the forest i...moreMy edition leaves out the subtitle and is just called "Tom Swift and His Big Dirigible," but since everyone natters on about how damn dry the forest is the word go, the subtitle isn't really much of a spoiler. I have a small collection of hard-cover Tom Swifts, probably first editions. They seemed impossibly ancient when I first read them, although this one was only 45 years old at the time. Now it's pushing 85, which doesn't seem so old. It must have been printed on the most acidic paper available, though, because the pages are browned and brittle; it SEEMS like a much older book than it actually is.
How does the writing hold up? Not as bad as I expected! "Victor Appleton," if that was a real person, was clearly a very capable writer! And, I'm guessing he cranked this stuff out at least a chapter a day, basically sending first drafts in to the publisher, where a red pencil was ceremonially waved over the manuscript before it was set to type. The plotting, characterization, and dialog are all perfectly wooden, but no worse than in most mass-produced genre fiction down the ages.
The two servants of color who hate each other because they compete for the love of Master or "Massa" Swift are a bit much to swallow, and should have been in 1930, and the dialect writing for the Swift family's faithful "Negro" is a national embarrassment. Points to the Appleton machine, I guess, for including two sympathetic Italian characters to counterbalance the evil Italian character. And, it is interesting in a young adult serial novel to see the author make gestures towards explaining how things work -- you actually come out of "Big Dirigible" with a sense of young Mr. Swift's management style, credit standing, and ability to weigh immediate profit against the possibility for publicity and relationship-building when putting together a contract.
Three stars was just sentimental -- these books are from my childhood. This book "was OK": two stars it is.(less)
I got about halfway through this perfectly competent book on the recommendation of a student, because you want to flatter a young person who recommend...moreI got about halfway through this perfectly competent book on the recommendation of a student, because you want to flatter a young person who recommends you a book when you can. But nothing of any interest ever happened, and there are only so many hours in a life.(less)
Steven King's "The Long Walk" meets Iain Banks' "The Player of Games" meets "1984" in a remarkably well-written YA post-apocalyptic fantasy novel. Col...moreSteven King's "The Long Walk" meets Iain Banks' "The Player of Games" meets "1984" in a remarkably well-written YA post-apocalyptic fantasy novel. Collins does an impressive job of invoking and sustaining an internally plausible world and populating it with telling details that don't scream for attention (I liked, for instance, the neoclassical affectations of "the capital.") I was initially annoyed at the amount of time the book would spend setting up perfectly obvious scenarios and then endlessly protracting how long it took for the first-person narrator to think them through, but as things progress there were enough surprises to keep me on my toes. As an adventure-thriller, "Hunger Games" works a winning formula very well; the macabre tournament at the story's core is very nicely realized.
Underneath the terrific surface, though, it's a book with some conceptual problems. Most obvious is the disingenuous anti-urban, anti-guvment grandstanding. As dystopias go, this is less an Orwellian anti-totalitarian wake-up call and more as if Sarah Palin got clever and wrote a book to embody the values of The Real America. I dunno whether this reflects an authorial agenda or if it just evolved out of creating a setting for a good gladiator yarn, but there it is.
There's also a fairly glaring moral dishonesty in how our point-of-view character survives the death-match. The Bad Contestants (who are, incidentally, established as Bad primarily by their association with urban society and da guvment) actively kill. The Good (rural, disenfranchised) Contestants are allowed by the plotting to kill only defensively, indirectly, out of mercy, and by outlasting the hapless. They get to succeed in the tournament -- and how! -- without really engaging in it, a contrivance that allows the book to set up a very complex moral quandary and then resolutely refuse to engage with it.
Well, that's OK. Most adventure stories have wobbly underpinnings if you're worried about that sort of thing. The important thing, maybe, is just that I found "The Hunger Games" an entertaining and engaging story. And I really did! But I've noticed too -- and this is what makes this a three-star review instead of a four-star review -- that despite this being the first book of a series, I don't really have any interest in reading the second installment. I'm just not curious about what happens next. That makes it hard to hold this up as a successful piece of serial fiction.(less)
Seems like perfectly good young adult science fiction. But I'm not a young adult, and an expository second chapter sent my interest skittering off els...moreSeems like perfectly good young adult science fiction. But I'm not a young adult, and an expository second chapter sent my interest skittering off elsewhere. The book and I part ways with no hard feelings.(less)
"J.K. Rowling’s great gift, in this opening salvo of the Harry Potter fusillade, is that she writes a virtually frictionless prose. The story and sett...more"J.K. Rowling’s great gift, in this opening salvo of the Harry Potter fusillade, is that she writes a virtually frictionless prose. The story and setting are jolly enough, and often rather engaging, but what compels you forward is less a sense of “I must read another chapter!” than “Why not read another chapter?” In Sorcerer’s Stone, reading is so effortless as to require no real investment."