On an ordinary day, an alien spaceship appears in the sky above St. Thomas. The Ynaa come with medical and energy technology. All they want is to stay a while. But soon, there are complications. The Ynaa do not seem evil, per se, only enigmatic. They are extremely strong, and won’t hesitate to tear a human apart at the slightest provocation. Derrick, a young man who has always looked skyward, wants to bridge the cultural and social divide. He begins working for Mera, the “ambassador” for the Ynaa. Unfortunately, Human resentment towards the Ynaa, continues to fester, and soon desperate people start doing desperate things.
The novel is a not-so-thinly veiled allegory on the victims of colonialism, complete with flashbacks to earlier St. Thomian history. The islanders have been invaded and colonised several times, and the Ynaa, despite being aliens, are in many ways no different to the Europeans who came earlier, with superior weapons and with little regard for individual inhabitants. The characters have their own issues and familial challenges, but for the Ynaa, this is only background noise.
The story is reasonably interesting but perhaps a bit too low key until the final climax. I can understand the intent; show that people can and will have ordinary lives beneath the notice of their oppressors. Unfortunately, for long sections, the narrative is dull and overlong. Nevertheless, a fine commentary on colonialism as seen from the eyes of the colonised.
Paper Farris has grown up in Fill City One, an industrial complex extracting goods and fuel from a monumental landfill. She is third generation, her grandmother having signed the family into indentured servitude for eight generations. Meanwhile, an eccentric triillionaire is funding a manned mission to Mars, and offers one spot to the winner of a reality show. To gain a spot on the show, a contestant must participate in a lottery, the tokens for which are in the form of a Scarab. But even if could get hold of one, “Fillers” such as Paper may not leave their cities.
Mr. Dircks has crafted an interesting and fun adventure. Paper Farris is a likeable heroine who is easy to root for, flaws and all. The world is clearly a dystopia, and the reasons it became one are a clear commentary on developments in today’s world. The science and technology elements were something of a let down. While some handwaving was needed to incorporate the McGuffin, a minimum of changes would have made the rest of the techie bits far more realistic.
In the third and final book, Katniss is among the rebels. She has survived The Hunger Games, twice, but she is more and more a broken person. Friends and others want to use her for their purposes. She is no longer a Tribute but she is still a pawn.
Throughout the book, Katniss falls victim to a psychological trauma that has its roots as far back as the first book. The way in which Ms. Collins describesÂ Katniss’s descent into madness is chilling, especially as the narrative is inÂ the first person. The last third of the book is very bleak, as there seem to be no good options. And yet, the pace is kept up, the action moves on. Even inÂ the darkest, most introspective passages the reader still feels carried forward in the story.
A few months have passed since the events of The Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta now live as neighbors in the Victor’s Village, along with Haymitch. Things are strained because, despite Katniss’s status as a victor, she is also a symbol of defiance against the capitol. The President would probably like her eliminated, but cannot do so because of her status as a popular public figure. To top things off, she must pretend to be in love with Peeta in public, while Gale now works in the mines and she is in general unsure how she stands with him.
Since this year will be the seventy-fifth Hunger Games, the rules are special. Katniss’s troubles are just beginning.
While it cannot quite reach the level of the first book, Catching Fire is a more than worthy sequel. Yet again, the strict first person perspective forces the reader to see everything through the eyes of Katniss. More importantly, we see the world through the lens of her thoughts and doubts. It is a cruel and dangerous world, and she must make brave decisions in order to protect her loved ones. The action scenes take up less space and are, perhaps, not as gripping. I felt that Ms. Collins could have spent some more time here. In any case this was a page turner just like book one.
The ending leaves little resolved, and book three directly follows.
Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, quite literally the end of the line of the twelve vassal districts where laborers toil and starve to support the rich Capitol inhabitants in the nation of Panem, located in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic North America. Almost a century ago, the districts rebelled against the Capitol and were brutally repressed. Since then, each district must offer two youngsters, one male and one female, as “Tribute”, every year. The youngsters are chosen through a lottery system. The youths will compete in the titular Hunger Games. To the death. The point being to remind the districts who is boss. Through a series of circumstances, Katniss ends up in the Hunger Games.
Readers familiar with Ender’s Game will feel a strong familiarity with some of the themes. Both books deal with youngsters thrown into cruel and unfamiliar situations beyond their control. There is even some similarity in the sparse style.
The fact this novel is marketed as “Young Adult” should not scare off adult readers. The characters and settings are memorable. Seeing the world through the first person perspective of Katniss means we are forced into her constrained existence. She has no freedom in her world and may not leave District 12. She has no freedom after becoming a Tribute, with her intricate preparations for the games stage-managed by a mentor and a team of stylists. In a bitter irony, she becomes somewhat free to do as she wants in the Hunger Games Arena itself, but the freedom comes at the price of having to fight for her life, often against opponents she has deep affection for.
The pacing is perfect and the action sequences are gripping without reveling in bloodshed or cruelty. Certainly there are strong scenes of violence but the purpose is to convey the horror and evil of the Hunger Games, not to draw readers in with schlock. This novel has that rare compulsive page-turning quality.