Bookbanter Column: “Too Much of a Good Thing” (July 20, 2011)

If there’s one thing that readers, writers and the publishing world have all learned from the likes of the Harry Potter and Twilight series, it is that children’s publishing seems to be going through a series of cycling genres right now.  With the worldwide success of J. K. Rowling’s then relatively unique series, the children’s and young adult fantasy genre exploded with a glut of fantasy books  — I should know, I was submitting my own YA fantasy manuscript to agents at the time and received nothing but rejections; this was in part due to the sheer number of YA fantasy manuscripts that agents and editors were receiving at that point, as well as possibly because my manuscript may not have been the work of pure, original genius I deemed it to be; but we won’t talk about that here – that still continues in the current time, partially because many of these YA fantasy books were the first in a series. 

Then came Twilight and its overwhelming success, and then there was the glut of vampire books which has now slowed down.  It has slowed down in part, because the next cycle of the children’s and YA genre has begun in the form of the dystopian story, which is because of the success of the Hunger Games series, which has spawned a large number of quickly written and published books on a doomed future involving teenagers.  Just as with the stories about wizards and vampires, the ones about this hopeless future often straddle the line of a decent story and being outright asinine.    

The same cycle phenomenon can certainly be applied to the adult science fiction and fantasy genre with the vampire, zombie, and post-apocalyptic stories, but because of just how bestselling Harry Potter and Twilight continue to be, with the current teen readers – as well as new teen readers discovering these respective series each year – publishers know there is a lot of money to be made from these books.  It may not have the complexity and longevity of Harry Potter, or the sexual frisson and word-of-mouth support as Twilight, but if it’s a book with a cool cover that looks like it could be as good as Hunger Games, then kids and teens are going to buy it!

This is, of course, in part due to the fact that publishing is in a very uncertain and unpredictable place right now, with the advent of the ebook, and the future is not as concrete a s it has been in the past; but it’s also easier to just publish books that are popular, much like Hollywood has turned more to making movies of adapted screenplays instead of original ones.

Rachel Manija Brown, author of All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, has in fact done a series of posts on her blog that partly inspired this column.

“I got food poisoning and downloaded a bunch of first chapters of random recent YA science fiction to distract myself. To my amusement, most of them turned out to be dystopias – and many of them very similar dystopias. The idea that the government can control absolutely everything is meant to be horrifying in the books, but becomes hilarious when you read ten first chapters in a row in which the government controls your clothing, tattoos, water, emotions, marriage, writing, computers, jobs, college majors, families, games, and virginity.”

The original post can be found here.  When asked why she thought so many YA dystopian books are being written, she responded:

“It’s a popular trend. Only time will tell whether it will have staying power or quickly fade away. While it’s always tempting to link trends to zeitgeists, it’s too easy to take any trend at all and then explain it away by linking it to something happening in the world. (“Big hair was popular in the eighties because it symbolized the empty grandiosity of America’s posturing on the world stage.”) My best guess is that YA dystopias are popular now because people really liked The Hunger Games and wanted to read more books like that. That, or both YA novelists and teenagers are afraid of nanny government.”

What I think is being crucially missed here with these dystopian stories is a message and resonance.  When you think of some of the dystopian classics like 1984, The Jungle, Brave New World, and The Handmaid’s Tale to name a few, there was a strong message in each of these books, of a particular world that had gone down a wrong path, a path the real world should never make the mistake of going down.  They were all possible worlds that could perhaps be, but we knew we could never let it go that far.  The dystopian stories mentioned below are missing this important message; they are just there as a quick, simple story that leaves no lasting impression.  Rachel weighs in on this:

“If the main thing I get from a book is the idea that teenage girls having sex is bad or that having the government control everything down to the color of your socks is bad or environmental destruction is bad – all messages contained in a number of YA dystopias I’ve read recently – then the book is too message-driven for my taste.”

In fifty or a hundred years, readers will still know of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, but I’m pretty sure any of the books I’m about to mention likely won’t be remembered.

But enough chitchat, lets get to the books . . .


Hunger Games

Hunger Games: We begin first with the trilogy that really started the runaway train ride of the dystopian story.  The Hunger Games are an event held each year in the Capitol of a changed America in a distant future, where two teens between the ages of twelve and eighteen are chosen from each district to participate in a unique arena where they must fight and battle each other to the death.  The last remaining boy or girl alive wins and gets to spend the rest of their lives in splendor.  The Hunger Games are meant to be a reminder to all the citizens of the districts of how bad times used to be, and how everyone should be happy and grateful to the Capitol and the ruling government.


Water Wars

Water Wars by Cameron Stracher: In this future, American is a different place, with a whole new map of six republics that are at war with each other after what was known as the “Great Panic.”  Here water has become scarce, as the great lakes and rivers have dried up.  Republics now fight for rare wells and water sources for survival.  Water consumption is controlled by a government body and it’s all about the haves and the have nots.  This is also the story about a girl and a special boy who has the ability to “divine” sources of water.


Maze Runner

Maze Runner by James Dashner: The first in a trilogy, this is perhaps the most derivative of The Hunger Games, featuring an enclosed maze world where a boy finds himself mysteriously arriving by elevator.  There he finds sixty other boys who have been trapped there for some time; a new boy arrives every thirty days.  Then the first girl arrives.


Marched

Matched by Ally Condie:  The first in a trilogy, in this world nothing is left to chance and the Society Officials decide all aspects of daily life, so when the main character has her husband – who is her best friend – chosen for her, she believes the Society Officials know best, until she installs her Match microchip and sees a different boy.


Birthmarked

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien: The first in a trilogy, in this changed world women and girls have their sole roles of childrearing defined for them, with the main character playing the part of a midwife with her mother.  The first three children must be offered to the government with the possibility of a better life in the city.  Apparently it also involves inbreeding and “numerous birthing scenes.”

 

Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth: The first in a trilogy, in this world a dystopian Chicago is divided into five factions dedicated to the development of a specific virtue – Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent), and on a specific day each year all sixteen year olds must choose the faction they will devote the rest of their lives to.

 

Delirium

Delirium by Lauren Oliver: In this world of a controlling government, young Lena Haloway is looking forward to her eighteenth birthday, when she will finally be cured of “deliria,” which in this world is any form of love.  Her mother committed suicide and her last words were “I love you.”  That is until she meets a young man who changes her mind . . .

 

Incarceron

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher: The first in a series and originally published in Great Britain, Incarceron is a prison where people are born and die and know of little else, and Finn wants to escape, but legend says there has only ever been one person who has.  Joining up with the warden’s daughter who also wants to escape, they discover a crystal key and a unique means of communicating with each other.

 

Wither

Wither by Lauren DeStefano: The first in a trilogy where scientists have tried to create perfectly genetically engineered children, and the first generation is nearly immortal, while successive generations begin to die early in age: girls at age 20, boys at age 25, and girls are now kidnapped and taken for brothels and marriages to breed children.

 

Bumped

Bumped by Megan McCafferty: A virus has made everyone over the age of eighteen infertile and unable to conceive, turning young teens into baby-making machines for a certain fee, making them the most important members of society.  Apparently, Bumped is written with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and humor, indicating that the author is at least aware of what she’s creating.

 

Enclave

Enclave by Ann Aguirre: In this doomed world, children don’t earn the right to be named until the age of fifteen, since most of them apparently don’t survive that long.  They are trained in one of three focuses: breeders, builders, or hunters, which is identified by how many scars they bear.

 

XVI

 

XVI by Julia Karr: Colloquially referred to as “Sexteen,” this book perhaps represents the worst of the worst as far as storyline goes.  The year is 2150 and girls, when they turn the important age of sixteen, are branded with a tattoo that is supposed to protect them, but in fact notifies everyone around that they are now “sexually available.”  It seems to be the book that puts women at the very lowest level of society.

This list by no means is comprehensive of the YA dystopian genre.  I invite readers to comment of other bizarre and extreme books that they have discovered in this genre; or perhaps they saw something deeper and more meaningful in one of the books they read listed above.

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BookBanter #3: Too Much of a Good Thing

BookBanter Column

In the third BookBanter Column, “Too Much of a Good Thing,” I take on the exploding genre of the Young Adult Dystopian genre that has burst to life after the incredible success of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Here you’ll find a nice list of some of the more crazy and unbelievable YA dystopian books that have been published in the last couple of years.  You can start reading below and follow the link for the rest of the column:

If there’s one thing that readers, writers and the publishing world have all learned from the likes of the Harry Potter and Twilight series, it is that children’s publishing seems to be going through a series of cycling genres right now. Continue reading . . .

2011 Locus Award Finalists

And the Locus Award Finalists for 2011 have been announced.  Interviews with BookBanter are linked and indicated, while book reviews are linked via the book cover.

Science Fiction Novel

Surface Detail, Iain M. Banks (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
Cryoburn, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Zero History, William Gibson (Putnam; Viking UK)
The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (Pyr; Gollancz)
Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)

Fantasy Novel

Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay [BookBanter interview] (Penguin Canada; Roc)
Under Heaven

Kraken, China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey)
Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
The Fuller Memorandum, Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
The Sorcerer’s House, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

First Novel

The Loving Dead, Amelia Beamer (Night Shade)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin [BookBanter interview] (Orbit UK; Orbit US)

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz; Tor)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu (Pantheon)

Young Adult Book

Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

Mockingjay
Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones (HarperCollins UK; Greenwillow)
I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; HarperCollins)
Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

Novella

Bone and Jewel Creatures, Elizabeth Bear (Subterranean)
The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
“The Mystery Knight”’, George R.R. Martin (Warriors)
Warriors
“Troika”, Alastair Reynolds (Godlike Machines)
“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window’”, Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’10)

Novelette

“The Fool Jobs”, Joe Abercrombie (Swords & Dark Magic)
“The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains”, Neil Gaiman (Stories)
“The Mad Scientist’s Daughter”, Theodora Goss (Strange Horizons 1/18-1/25/10)
“Plus or Minus”, James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s 12/10)
“Marya and the Pirate”, Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s 1/10)

Short Story

“Booth’s Ghost”, Karen Joy Fowler (What I Didn’t See and Other Stories)
“The Thing About Cassandra”, Neil Gaiman (Songs of Love and Death)
“Names for Water”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 10-11/10)
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/10)
“The Things”, Peter Watts (Clarkesworld 1/10)

Magazine

Analog
Asimov’s
F&SF
Subterranean
Tor.com

Publisher

Baen
Night Shade Books
Orbit
Subterranean Press
Tor

Anthology

Zombies vs. Unicorns, Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier, eds. (McElderry)
The Beastly Bride, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, eds. (Viking)
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin’s)
Warriors, George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, eds. (Tor)

Warriors

Swords & Dark Magic, Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders, eds. (HarperCollins)

Collection

Mirror Kingdoms, Peter S. Beagle (Subterranean)
What I Didn’t See and Other Stories, Karen Joy Fowler (Small Beer)
Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories, Fritz Leiber (Night Shade)
The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson, Kim Stanley Robinson (Night Shade)
The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny: Volume Five: Nine Black Doves, Roger Zelazny (NESFA)

Editor

Ellen Datlow
Gardner Dozois [BookBanter interview]
Gordon Van Gelder
David G. Hartwell
Jonathan Strahan

Artist

Bob Eggleton
Donato Giancola
John Picacio
Shaun Tan
Tales From Outer Suburbia

Michael Whelan

Non-fiction

80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin, Karen Joy Fowler & Debbie Notkin, eds. (Aqueduct)
Conversations with Octavia Butler, Conseula Francis (University Press of Mississippi)
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1: 1907-1948: Learning Curve, William H. Patterson, Jr., (Tor)
CM Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary, Mark Rich (McFarland)
Bearings: Reviews 1997-2001, Gary K. Wolfe (Beccon)

Art Books

Bob Eggleton, Dragon’s Domain (Impact)
Spectrum 17, Cathy & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood)
Donato Giancola, Middle-Earth: Visions of a Modern Myth (Underwood)
Shaun Tan, The Bird King and Other Sketches (Windy Hollow)
Charles Vess & Neil Gaiman, Instructions (Harper)

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2010)

Mockingjaystarstarstarstar

In the long, impatiently awaited conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay does the job to everyone’s satisfaction, but still leaves readers wondering why everything had to get wrapped up so quickly and completely in one book, when longer series are more popular; it must’ve been something Collins had decided from the start and stuck with right up to the end.

The resistance is ready to take the dictatorial government of the Capitol down.  The supreme and primary hideout is the destroyed waste of District 13, where an elaborate system of dormitories, living spaces, training rooms and compounds, mess halls, and command centers exists beneath the ground.  Katniss is to be the spokesperson and figurehead for the resistance – the Mockingjay.  At first Katniss doesn’t know if she’s ready or even able to do this, after everything she’s gone through.  Gale is training with her, while Peeta remains a captive of the Capitol.  Then she comes to a decision after a shocking experience; she will be the Mockingjay.  The resistance begins a series advertising campaigns, as they attempt to convert all the districts against the government.  Katniss is front and center in most of them, visiting those in need and rescuing and helping who she can.  Once all districts are united against the Capitol, the final showdown will happen.

Collins continues with the magic in her writing from the first two books, getting readers hooked in from the first page, and then shutting themselves out of their own lives until they get to the end.  Collins covers a monumental amount changes, events and happenings in Mockingjay, leaving this reader wondering why this last book didn’t get expanded into two or three, giving her characters more room to develop and change with the events taking place; as a result Mockingjay feels a little rushed at times.  Nevertheless, it is a satisfying conclusion to the series, and fans will be wondering what Collins will be dishing up next, while other writers jump on the “teens in a post-apocalyptic setting” band wagon to try to cash in on the Hunger Games success.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on September 18 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

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Hunger Games Catching Fire Leviathan Abarat

Mockingjay Book Tour

Mockingjay

Having finished reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins — the concluding volume to the Hunger Games trilogy — I was sadly unable to secure an interview with her for BookBanter. However, she is currently on an extensive book tour across the United States; the dates and locations are below from the Scholastic site.

While my review for Mockingjay is forthcoming, my quick one liner for the concluding book is this: first two thirds should’ve been two separate books to make it a five-book series; the last third was as good as the first book.

Fall 2010 Suzanne Collins U.S. Tour Schedule

August 31, 2010

6:00PM-7:30PM

Wellesley Booksmith

Wellesley, MA

October 1, 2010

4:00PM-5:30PM

Wild Rumpus

Minneapolis, MN

November 4, 2010

7:00PM-8:30PM

Hicklebee’s

San Jose, CA

September 20, 2010

5:00PM-6:30PM

Harleysville Books

Harleysville, PA

October 2, 2010

2:00PM-3:30PM

Red Balloon Bookshop

St Paul, MN

November 5, 2010

7:00PM-8:30PM

Barnes & Noble

Lynnwood, WA

September 21, 2010

6:00PM-7:30PM

Barnes & Noble

Fairless Hills, PA

October 3, 2010

2:00PM-3:30PM

Anderson’s Bookshop

Naperville, IL

November 6, 2010

11:00AM-12:30PM

Elliot Bay Book Company

Seattle, WA

September 22, 2010

6:00PM-7:30PM

Children’s Book World

Haverford, PA

October 3, 2010

7:00PM-8:30PM

The Book Stall

Winnetka, IL

November 6, 2010

4:00PM-5:30PM

Third Place Books

Lake Forest Park, WA

September 23, 2010

3:00PM-4:30PM

Politics & Prose

Washington, DC

October 4, 2010

3:00PM-4:30PM

The Magic Tree Bookstore

Oak Park, IL

*Please note: This schedule
is subject to change*
September 23, 2010

7:00PM-9:30PM

Books-A-Million

Hanover, MD

October 4, 2010

7:00PM-8:30PM

Borders

Schaumburg, IL

September 25, 2010

Time TBD

National Book Festival

Washington, DC

November 3, 2010

7:00PM-8:30PM

Kepler’s Books

Menlo Park, CA

“Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2009)

Catching Firestarstarstarstar

We last left Katniss winner of the Hunger Games, and for the first time in history a co-winner with Peeta, but she knows what they did has upset the government and the President, who would love nothing more than to execute them for that they did.  But the couple has become a sensation, worshiped and celebrated across the districts.  Katniss’s actions have even sparked riots and rebellions in the other districts, which she never expected to do.  The government doesn’t hesitate, stopping, destroying and killing those who are to blame, while Katniss wonder’s what her fate might be.

Meanwhile she is also fighting with what her heart’s desire, but is it Peeta or her friend Gale.  Who will she choose?  Then the unbelievable happens, creating a series of events that brings the nightmare back to her and what she thought she was done with, she must now face again, only this time the stakes are raised even further.

Suzanne Collins is a talented writer with a story-telling style that is able to suck in any reader and keep them locked in and hooked to the very last page.  There should be stickers on her books warning that once the reader starts, they won’t be able to stop!  And once fans are done with Catching Fire, they only have to wait until August 24th, 2010, though they may want to check our her earlier series, The Underland Chronicles.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 11th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008)

Hunger Gamesstarstarstarstarstar

From the author of the bestselling Underland Chronicles come the first in a brilliant new series that will change how you view your everyday life in more ways than you can count.  Collins has taken a science fiction archetype – a doomed future world where everyone gets by, barely – with a certain cast of characters that sets off the readers emotions to unknown bounds.

North America.  The future.  Now known as Panem, it’s a changed world, the country divided into districts, each district with its own industrial focus – minding, farming, manufacturing.  For the most part, many in the districts struggle to get by, struggle to survive.  Our main character, Katniss Everdeen, is a sixteen-year-old girl who has spent her life helping her family – her mother and younger sister – hunting for food and scraps, fighting to keep them all alive.  She is a teen beyond her years.

The annual event of the Hunger Games arrives: a stark reminder of how worse things could really be if the Capitol didn’t control the districts.  A boy and a girl – between twelve and eighteen – are selected from each district and forced to participate in the Games.  Katniss’s younger sister gets picked, and Katniss does what she’s always done: steps in front, volunteering in her sister’s place, saving her life.  Then she is off to the Hunger Games.

In the style of The Running Man, it is a nationally televised event, akin to the gladiatorial games of Rome, with much pomp and circumstance.  Twenty-four kids find themselves put into the “ring” – an unknown terrain that may or may not be habitable – and with the sound of a gong and the start of the games, they must fight each other to the death until one last child remains standing.  The children find themselves under constant pressure, to survive in the environs, to defend themselves against each other, and if the viewers get bored, creatures may be released to keep them on their toes.

The Hunger Games is one of those books that could be shelved in the young adult section for its use of teen characters, or the science fiction section for its powerful storytelling of a future world with some undeniable and harsh similarities to our own, or the fiction section for is strong characters who deal with very human emotions while fighting each other to survive.  This is strongest in Katniss, who knows how to hunt and fight for herself, but knows little of love and caring for those other than her family, and yet in the Hunger Games sometimes you must make allies to survive, at a cost, for eventually you will have to kill your ally.

The Hunger Games will have you on the edge of your seat, flipping the pages, but also wanting to read slowly and savor the incredible story, and at the end you’ll be somewhat annoyed by the abrupt ending.  Have no fear, the sequel, Catching Fire, will be out September 1st, while Collins continues work on the third book in the series.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on August 28th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.