Sunday, April 08, 2012



I had read The Hunger Games trilogy at least a couple of times before seeing the movie when it opened last month.  Of course I then had to buy a copy of the first book and reread it, which led to buying the second book to reread it.  In between, I saw the movie again.  Luckily for my budget, the third book was archived on my Nook, so I read it again--twice.  I had recommended the books to my kids and my friend Sue, resulting in the following oft-quoted exchange:

Sue (after hearing my synopsis of the first two books, prior to the publication of the third book):  Well, that just sounds stupid.  And you've read two of these?  I wouldn't even read one of them.

Me:  Sue, you would really like this.  You love Survivor and The Amazing Race.  These books are kind of like those shows.

Sue:  I don't think so.  I'm not going to read them.

I gave up, never thinking the subject would be up for discussion again.  When the first movie trailers showed up on TV, I was so excited, and the movie itself exceeded my expectations.  I couldn't resist teasing Sue about it, so I asked her if she was planning to see the movie.  Imagine my surprise when she said the previews look pretty good.  After seeing THG, she told me she'd really enjoyed the movie, but added darkly, "I'm still not going to read those books."

Well, you can't win them all.

In the meantime, having read the series again and seen the movie twice, I can't get the story out of my head.  I would read the third book again, but my son is currently reading Catching Fire and will be ready for Mockingjay in the next day or so, if we don't get hijacked by the last few episodes of Season 3 of Justified on FX.  I've given a lot of thought to what I would recommend to readers who are still hungry for some good post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction to fill the void until the second movie arrives in November 2013.  Here are my selections, in no particular order.

LIFE AS WE KNEW IT           \
THE DEAD AND THE GONE--Susan Beth Pfeffer
     In this trilogy, a meteor knocks the moon out of its proper orbit, wreaking havoc on the earth with tidal waves and other natural disasters to add to the chaos.  The first volume focuses on a family in Pennsylvania, the second on a family in New York City, and the third on both families as they struggle to deal with food shortages, lack of electricity and other amenities, and facing what passes for normal in the wake of disaster.  I had minor issues with the books, which I will gladly discuss with anyone who cares to comment, but overall, I liked the trilogy and have read it a couple of times.

     Honor and her family move from the Polar North to Enclosed Island 365, where everything from the climate to children's names to people's jobs are dictated by the Colony.  Differences are punished swiftly and harshly, and conformity is the rule of the day.  Since Honor's parents act differently from their neighbors, it's only a matter of time until they draw attention in ways that cause Honor to question everything she believes.

THE GIVER               \
MESSENGER             /
     I actually read MESSENGER first, after purchasing it at a school book fair, and then had to seek out the other two books, which my kids had recommended to me.  THE GIVER in particular gives a chilling perspective on a world where political correctness is taken to the extreme and everything less than perfectly normal is made to disappear.

THE FAR SIDE OF EVIL--Sylvia Louise Engdahl
     Yet again, I begin a series with the second book.  Elana is a new graduate from a University very like Starfleet Academy.  She is sent to the planet Toris as kind of an undercover social worker to help this "Youngling" planet negotiate the perilous time when its population will either succumb to nuclear war or unite to develop a space program and explore extraterrestrial life.  This book shaped a lot of my attitudes about politics and war, and it didn't hurt that Elana had some pretty cool psi abilities.  The first book dealt with a more primitive population, and Engdahl uses more of a fairy-tale style to tell her story, which is very effective at presenting the Younglings' point of view.

RUNNING OUT OF TIME--Margaret Peterson Haddix
     All I need to say about this book is that it bears a remarkable resemblance to M. Night Shymalan's movie The Village, which it predates.  There was some controversy when the movie came out, but the book is well worth a read.

FRIDAY--Robert A. Heinlein
     In a world that seems remarkably like the Capitol of Panem, Friday, a genetically-enhanced Artificial Person, is a courier of top-secret information.  She faces discrimination because of her not-human parts, even though, until she reveals her secret, she is completely accepted and popular in her social circle.  What's remarkable about this book, to me, is what an amazing job Heinlein did of creating a futuristic world that is very like the world we currently live in.

RESTOREE--Anne McCaffrey
     It's no surprise that this is one of my favorite Anne McCaffrey titles, since it is, at its core, a romance in science fiction clothing.  Sara is kidnapped from Earth by aliens intent on devouring the human race.  When she regains consciousness, she discovers that she has had a makeover that has turned her into a model of physical perfection, but she is working as a caretaker for a man who is being drugged to keep him out of his rightful role as Regent of the planet.  She decides to wean him off the drugs, thus opening the door to intrigue and romance.  McCaffrey once said she was surprised at how much fans loved this book, which she wrote in protest of the science fiction that was then being written by men, but it remains a huge favorite among her fans.

     If your only exposure to this series was the less-than-satisfying film version that came out a few years ago, do yourself the favor of forgetting the movie and sink into the books.  Lina and Doon live in the City of Ember, an underground community that was designed to be the last hope of mankind in a post-apocalyptic future.  The electricity in Ember is failing, supplies are running out, and food is becoming scarce.  When Lina and Doon find the pieces of an old map, they realize that there is a way out of Ember.  The remaining books deal with the people from Ember trying to carve lives for themselves aboveground, where resources are nearly as scarce as they were in Ember and the people are not completely thrilled to welcome them into society.  I've read this series a couple of times, and I can tell you, the filmmakers did duPrau a huge disservice with what they put onscreen.

THE HOST--Stephenie Meyer
     This book was as unlike the Twilight series as it could possibly be, but I loved it.  Yes, it does feature a love triangle, but the rivalry is not like any you've encountered before.  Earth is being invaded by parasites, shiny silvery wormlike creatures which are implanted in the brains of humans and take over their minds, displacing the humans.  When Wanderer is inserted into the body of Melanie Stryder, she is flummoxed to discover that Melanie's being refuses to be displaced from her body.  As they share one body and get to know each other, Wanderer gets to know Jared, Melanie's beloved, who is a rebel in hiding from the aliens.  This book is, pardon the pun, more cerebral than action-packed, but I enjoyed it as a cautionary tale against the arrogance of humans and the decline of social mores.

I'm certain there are lots more books I could add to this list.  I'm equally certain that I am not finished with The Hunger Games.  If, like me, you're suffering from Hunger pangs, perhaps this list will help you find something to keep them at bay.  May the odds be ever in your favor!

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