I FINALLY finished The Hunger Games trilogy. It only took, well, five years or so. I read v e r y s l o w l y. Even slugs read braille faster than I can read. No, but really. I started the series a muy long time ago in a far off galaxy of school librarianship. I was one of the first original Hunger Games pioneers and recruited newbies to join the fun. It was a big hit in our library.
I'm not sure why it took me such a long time to get around to reading the third book. Was it because I enjoyed the story so much I didn't want it to end? Yeah. Was it because the second in the series was a bit disappointing and I didn't want to be let down even more by the third? Yes, again.
It's so common that it's a cliche. Series sequels just don't meet the high standards of the first installment. Doesn't matter if you're talking about books or movies. Just don't bother with any of the sequels. They're pretty awful. The Matrix is a good example. Remember how awesome the first movie was? Remember how it blew your mind? Remember how awesome it was to watch Keanu contort his body as the bullets swirled overhead? How creepy and cool it was when agent clone called him "Mr. Anderson"? Those awesome fight scenes? And the premise--the world we know is just a computer program and our real bodies are stuck in a hive somewhere and hooked up to machines? Wowzies! It was a hit and rightly so.
And then The Matrix was reloaded, but I think they forgot to include the gunpowder. It was a real letdown. Nothing innovative. Nothing exciting. Just more fight scenes and a re-run of the same ideas from the first.
Well, The Matrix sequels didn't deliver anything radical or mind boggling, and neither did Catching Fire or Mockingjay for that matter.
So, Mockingjay. (Cool word--mashup of "mockingbird" and "bluejay." Cool concept, too.) Do I actually need to describe what happens? Probably yes since the movie has yet to come out. (On a side note--it's a good thing I saw the Catching Fire movie recently because I had forgotten a lot of the plot elements and characters from that long ago time when I read the first two books in the series.)
Katniss is "safe" in District 13, which is like an anthill for rebels that stretches far underground and includes everything you need to survive, like food, air, clothes, beds, and these nifty little machines that stamp your daily schedule onto your arm for some strange reason.
The compound was originally created as a war shelter for higher-up government types and is complete with quarters for the occupants and nuclear weapons. Apparently (according to Wikipedia), it's a futuristic Cheyenne Mountain.
Katniss is just as moody and recalcitrant as ever. The girl just cain't be satisfied. This time it's guilt over Peeta*. She got dragged out of the arena, but he's somewhere in the Capitol where they're doing God knows what to him. It doesn't matter that Katniss has been saved from annihilation in the hunger arena or that her family is safe and sound or that she is cared for and has enough to eat (repulsive as the food may be), she is just plain unhappy and won't do as she's told. She spends most of her time hiding in broom closets and sleeping.
After she witnesses interviews with Peeta on tv showing that he is very much alive, she perks up a little and makes an important decision--she will become the mockingjay. The president of 13 has asked Katniss to become a symbol for the rebels to follow, something to inspire the resistance. Basically she's a marketing ploy (once again). Katniss says, yeah, okay, I'll do it, but only if you spare all the other Hunger Game victors even those with bad behavior and let me kill President Snow myself. Prez 13 says, okay, and the fight is on.
Katniss and her cohorts spend the rest of the novel galvanizing the troops, plotting a rescue attempt for Peeta, and waging an assault on the Capitol. I'm not going to go into great detail, however, because I don't want to give away too much. Suffice it to say, there are some deaths and a whole lot of violence, Katniss doesn't do what she's told, and although the ending wraps up the loose ends, we're left with a grown-up Katniss who is still not quite satisfied with her lot in life.
Overall, I enjoyed the novel. I'm a big fan of well-written dystopian novels. There's a lot of action as well, which is fun to read. I was unhappy with Suzanne Collins's (the author's) decision to kill off some of the characters, however, but I guess in a post-Apocalyptic world, you can't have too much happily ever after.
The use of people as marketing ploys is an interesting theme throughout the entire series. Katniss is always someone else's tool--she is constantly used as a message to the people, first by President Snow and then by Prez 13. She is always resistant to being branded by others, but her need to protect the ones she loves always outweighs this resistance and she agrees to represent the symbols created for her.
I could go on and on about the philosophical implications of this theme...if I were a philosopher. We are every one of us a symbol of something to someone. And we play all kinds of different roles in our lives. The difference is that Katniss is coerced into the roles she plays. What is interesting about her story is watching as she defies and subverts the symbols applied to her.
So, it's a good read. A nice conclusion to the trilogy. Could have been more innovative, sure, but it wrapped up the loose ends. Two thumbs (and one big toe) up! In other words, 3 outta four.
*Footnote: What's up with the name "Peeta"? It seems to be a corruption of the name "Peter," but it sounds like a toddler's version of the word, or someone who has a speech impediment. And then those other crazy names all over the novel. Nobody has a "normal" name: Katniss, Prim, Gale (What kind of name is that for a guy? I thought it was a girl's name.), Haymitch (Would that be a person who mitches hay? And how exactly does one mitch hay?). And then the Capitol folks all have these strangely Roman/Grecian names: Cinna, Plutarch, Caesar (the talk show host), Claudius. Is this a way of showing that the Capitolinians are the elite with their stately names and the districtinians are mongrels with their made-up, compound names? Hmm...A thought.
This morning I did a twitterview (twitter +interview) with Chuck Wendig (www.terribleminds.com). He's the author of the new YA series The Heartland Trilogy, with the first of the series Under the Empyrean Sky, coming out on July 30, 2013.
I read and reviewed UtES for VOYA and was so impressed by Wendig's way with language that I wanted to know more, so I arranged a twitterview with him. I was taken aback by the response on twitter to the interview. It turned out that others wanted to pitch their questions in as well.
I divided questions and responses by color. I'm red; Wendig is green; and everybody else is blue (yeah, it's my blog--I get to choose the colors!) Here's how it went down:
@clynncok (AKA, me!): Good morning, @ChuckWendig!
@ChuckWendig: Hi there!
@clynncok: So are you cool with just using the hashtag #twitterview?
@ChuckWendig: That works for me: #twitterview
Doing an interview right now, live, with @clynncok using the hashtag #twitterview -- follow along. OR DON'T SEE IF I CARE *sob*
@clynncok: Having a good Sunday?
@ChuckWendig: My Sunday is full of rain but also, my stomach is full of cream chipped beef (aka "shit on a shingle"). Good Sunday
The #twitterview will go for the next hour, I believe. @clynnok will be asking questions, but you're welcome to ask some, too. BECAUSE YAY.
(Just make sure to use that hashtag: #twitterview -- otherwise, your tweets will be eaten by the grim and unforgiving void.)
@clynncok: So, am I right that _Under the Empyrean Sky_ is your first YA novel?
@ChuckWendig: UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY is not necessarily my first #YA novel: self-pubbed BAIT DOG is sorta-maybe YA, too.
@clynncok: Why #YA? As in, why are you doing #YA now?
@ChuckWendig: Why #YA now? I had a story to tell in that space, for one. But YA is where a lot of really smart, brave storytelling is.
@clynncok: Do you read much #YA?
@ChuckWendig: Didn't use to read much #YA, but I was schooled by very smart people about the awesome stuff out there: now it's regular TBR.
@clynncok: Cool! I love #YA. Examples of any of that "smart, brave storytelling," you were talking about?
@ChuckWendig: #YA examples of great storytelling? CODE NAME: VERITY. Or FAULT IN OUR STARS. Or THE DIVINERS. Or MARBURY LENS. Many options.
@clynncok: Dystopias seem to be hot in #YA right now, but that's not why you wrote one. Why did you write one?
@ChuckWendig: I did not conceive of UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY as a dystopian (though it is): I wanted to write a sciencey-fantasy thing.
@karinacooper: There seems to be an endless demand for first-person POV over third in YA. Did you feel pressured to choose?
@ChuckWendig: I felt no pressure to write first person because the book was a risk for me anyway. So, I went with a close 3rd.
@clynncok: Your Amazon reviews border on idolatry, so why hadn't I ever heard of you before? (not rude, just curious)
@ChuckWendig: I don't understand the question. I do get negative reviews, and as I'm not a bestseller I assume most don't know me.
@clynncok: But as I've recently discovered, they should know you.
Would you say writing for you is a craft or a gift?
@ChuckWendig: Writing is a craft. Storytelling is an art. Both are practiced, trained, the products of effort and not of grace or fate.
@karinacooper: Keeping an eye on @ChuckWendig’s #twitterview. Have some questions for the man? There’s your hashtag. Ask, and ye shall be answered.
@ChuckWendig: Another half hour left in this #twitterview -- feel free to ask me questions using the hashtag (focusing today on #YAlit).
@clynncok: You said earlier that writing UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY was a risk. Why was it a risk?
@ChuckWendig: EMPYREAN SKY was risky as falls outside my author "brand" (burns me just to type that); YA isn't my space; new thing for me.
@fredhicks: So was Dino for that matter but I’m all the more excited about you as a author with breadth as well as depth.
@ChuckWendig: DINO NOW was equally challenging, yeah -- in some ways moreso than EMPYREAN SKY was.
@Elliesoderstrom: why? Because it already had a set world/characters? #twitterview. (that's my favorite work of yours, so free and fun!)
@ChuckWendig: That said, I think storytelling in general is a risk in terms of both career and emotional investment.
If you're not willing to take interesting risks & blind leaps as a writer, you maybe shouldn't be a writer in the first place.
@karinacooper: When @ChuckWendig talks about “author brand”, he notes it “burns [him] just to type that”. Take heed. (It buuuurns, precious.)
@ChuckWendig: The author brand is like the brand they use on cattle. A needless mark of ownership. Think more to voice & style.
@SamSykesSwears: Many YAs are dark with an optimistic undertone; darkness makes protagonist shine. Can it be done without the tone?
@ChuckWendig: You mean #YALit without the optimistic tone? HUNGER GAMES has a pretty bleak ending.
@SamSykesSwears: Good point. I thought it had a pretty positive undertone throughout, though.
@ChuckWendig: It does! And it *kinda* weathers the storm. But most fiction retains some small optimism, #YA or no.
@cvilbrandt: What are themes in #YAlit (or any lit) that you want to explore more?
@ChuckWendig: I tend to explore similar themes across all my work: issues of family, bullying, disparity between people
@Gwenda: Along those lines, did you find anything about writing Empyrean Sky different than your other books, or no?
@ChuckWendig: EMPYREAN SKY was very worldbuildy for me. And teen protagonist was new for me, too. Sci-fi elements new, too...hmm.
So, actually, the book represented lots of new challenges for me! Huh.
@clynncok: About UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY, in it corn is both king and conqueror. You got some sort of beef with corn?
@ChuckWendig: Corn and the technology surrounding corn is both a) really awesome and b) really scary. Felt like unexplored territory!
@Stephen_GM: On risks: What other genres, media, etc that you don't have experience or a profile in would you like to explore?
@ChuckWendig: I am slowly trying to hip-check and elbow-nudge my way into comics. *nudge bump nudge bump*
@Elliesoderstrom: what genre of comics? Supers? In what universe? Or, an original work?
@ChuckWendig: I yearn to work in all genres of comics. I have something coming up with @VSComics very soon…
@BrightEyedDyer: What is your editing process once a 1st draft is complete? And, who reads your work when (spouse, editor, ?)?
@ChuckWendig: Ideally a first draft sits a while, but when that's not possible, it goes right to my brilliant agent.
@Elliesoderstrom: loved your theme. Crops.it’s ancient—so many social issues around it—like colonists exploiting Indians for it.
@ChuckWendig: Food politics and farm life and the complexities of food versus food science totally fascinate me.
@Elliesoderstrom: did you grow up on the farm or agricultural setting?
@ChuckWendig: I did grow up on a farm, actually. Crops/livestock early in my life, but later we just raised whitetail deer.
@Elliesoderstrom: SO YOU GOT TO PET FAWNS?!? No wonder! That’s where you got mystical powers.
@clynncok: Of all the products made from corn, what do you consider the strangest? Other than corn niblets.
@ChuckWendig: Actually, here's an interesting list of some of the things made from corn -- http://www.agricorner.com/op-ten-things-you-didn%E2%80%99t-know-are-made-from-corn/
@clynncok: So you've really done your research. Impressive.
@janetharriett: They missed sunblock and iodized salt.
@ChuckWendig: Iodized salt is made from corn?!
Actually for an adult-level look at the GMO thing, worth checking out @JonMcGoran's DRIFT -- out now.
@clynncok: Another social issue--the ultimate villain in the novel is a woman. Is this your contribution to feminism?
@ChuckWendig: "…the ultimate villain in the novel is a woman. Is this your contribution to feminism?" Uhh, whoa, no.
I don't think a female villain has anything to say about feminism. The book also has female characters who aren't villains, so?
My goal is to write strong characters and to sometimes make those characters women. Protagonists or villains or whatever.
@faitherinhicks: actually, I LOVE a powerful, badass female villain & find them quite feminist if they're done well! :D LOVE them.
@ChuckWendig: This female villain is actually the breadwinner (not her husband) so she's arguably feminist? Or something?
@clynncok: That was kinda a joke.
Didn't mean to create such ire.
@ChuckWendig: No ire -- though the question maybe carries some odd connotations?
Ah, if it was a joke, then all good. Twitter doesn't carry tone oh so well.
@faitherinhicks: I had a young girl tell me she wanted to see more female villains, because villains are powerful & drive the story.
@clynncok: Thanks for being open to the idea of the #twitterview. It's been fun.
@karinacooper: Thanks for chatting #YAlit and UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY, @ChuckWendig!
@ChuckWendig: And I think the #twitterview is now complete. Thanks to @clynnok for the fun experiment! *ejects you all into the dark of space*
I want you all to know that during that #twitterview I cleaned a diaper that positively apocalyptic. … no, not mine, shush.
@clynncok: Thanks, @ChuckWendig!
Word and Book Lover.