Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Song of Fire and Ice: Dark Wings, Dark News

 George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series (now an HBO series called Game of Thrones) has been read by some as a deconstruction of the high fantasy genre.  Some of these deconstructions are long overdue — knights, kings, politics, etc. — but some of them are all-the-more surprising to happen today rather than a half-century ago.

The one I’m thinking of today is simply the pace of communication.  We’ve reached an era where communication is almost instantaneous.  I have friends who are never without their smart phones, who are never lost in a city of millions of people, who are never unaware of who is eating what for dinner.  Our society is glutted with information — which is its own problem, sure — and so the idea of living in a world where the fastest news flies by raven is. just. unimaginable.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Hunger Games and Celebrity Stunts

In The Hunger Games, the love story is practically a sidenote.  We’re really more interested in Katniss outmaneuvering the Careers—and making friends with Rue—and what the hell are those superbees, anyway?  But the love story is there.  And it’s all a lie.

The second and third novels devolve more quickly into the simple love triangle formula.  (Katniss-Peeta-Gale… gah we’ve seen this before Bella-Edward-Jacob)  But the first novel is notable for making its hero and heroine kiss—and all for the camera.  It actually draws a lot of its emotional strength from the fact that Katniss doesn’t know if Peeta is telling the truth, and Peeta doesn’t know if she is telling the truth—and all the people at home don’t know and don’t care.

(Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer)
It’s an interesting re-imagining of our reality TV culture where we often catch ourselves asking if celebrities are really dating—or if it’s only a publicity stunt. In Mockingjay, the documentary crew is an even more intense example of celebrity being used — I’m glad that Collins goes there in the third novel.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Hunger Games is almost an anti-violence novel

I read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy a year ago — the novels are set in a futuristic America that has been at once neatly simplified and reordered beyond recognition. Collins does this in order to discuss politics without hurting anyone’s feelings. Something on the level of “in this world, there are HUGE disparities between the rich and the poor! this world glorifies violence! what a scary future,” etc.

In the end, it touts itself as a trilogy exploring the horrors of war, the callousness of totalitarian governments, and—yes! COOL BATTLE SCENES! A SLOW ELIMINATION OF OPPONENTS THROUGH KARMIC DEATH AND OCCASIONAL PLOT TWIST! In a nutshell, the energy behind the message of The Hunger Games runs counter to the energy of its plot.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Anatomy of The Hunger Games

Susan Collins’ The Hunger Games is a popular trilogy, soon to be a popular movie series. Like most great books, it’s nothing new. In fact, The Hunger Games can be broken down into exactly five threads.

1) Reality TV
notable predecessors: The Running Man, Death Race 2000
A book or a movie based on reality TV is basically a book or a movie based on all the contrived things that TV shows like to do to us in order to make us watch. We read cliffhangers in books, sure—but a reality TV show builds their entire show layout on them. When Katniss sits in her tree, thinking that it’s getting too quiet and the games designers are going to get antsy—well, it justifies almost any plot twist in the book.

2) Deadly Sport
notable predecessors: The Most Dangerous Game, Gladiator
I don’t know why we humans like this trope. Most of us would lose these kind of games—and real quick, too. I think it’s the karmic victory—the reluctant soldier who turns on the eager killers and gives them a run for their money. Yeah. I think it’s that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Reviews: Two Kinds

A scholar named Gordon Hutner gave a talk at my university a few months ago. During the talk, he lamented that literature professors rarely talk about popular contemporary books—we’ve phased ourselves out of the conversation, leaving it mostly to journalists and novelists. There are plenty of reasons this might have happened (including but not limited to professorial snobbery), but more important is how this affects the general tone of book reviews today.

Journalists tend towards writing like this: “Book X is a tale of betrayal and deception. It begins with a car chase through downtown New York, and it ends with a fistfight atop the Pyramids of Giza. It’s a great read! Read it read it” i.e. book reviews are market tools! and the only important thing about a book is how preeminently saleable it is. Which leads to thumbs up/thumbs down appraisals as if the book is a glitzy gladiator.