Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games (2008)

By Joel Farnham

This book should not be taken lightly. This isn’t just another science fiction book. It is THE nightmare scenario for conservatives, and it is a nightmare for liberals because it clearly shows what an unrestrained state does to people. Then again, liberals may be taking notes and licking their chops.

** spoiler alert **

The Hunger Games is the first book in a trilogy created by author Suzanne Collins. Technically, this is in the Science Fiction genre, but it isn't overdone. You don't get starships, ray guns, invisibility or Star Wars-like elements. Instead, you get grace notes which can easily be switched out for our current equivalents.

The enemy in Hunger Games is the state, PANEM. It forces 12 districts to supply two people, a male and a female between the ages of 12 and 18, each year on the appropriately named Reaper Day. These people are called tributes. To add insult to injury, each district MUST celebrate Reaper Day. Attendance at the town square is mandatory, where a Capitol Person picks the tributes. Every person between the ages of 12 and 18 has to put their name in a pot. The names gets pulled out and announced. These tributes are then taken to the capital to be primped, prepped and readied to be thrown into an arena where they fight for survival against each other including the other tribute from their own district. Only the Capitol is immune from this tribute requirement.

This tribute system has been set up to remind the people that their children are the state's. Also, at various times pictures of a thirteen district, which was destroyed, are shown as reminders of what happens to districts that rebel.

Life in most districts is hard. Actual doctors and advanced medicine are only available in the Capitol. Apothecaries (primitive druggists/doctors) are few and far between in the districts. Simple amenities like electricity are strictly controlled and turned on part of each day. Weapons like bows and arrows are outlawed and the districts resemble prisons. Hardy individuals choose to knowingly break the law in order to feed their families. The local authorities look the other way because they buy the foodstuffs from the hunter/gatherers and usually are the best customers. Getting caught hunting and/or even just being outside the fence is punishable by death. Travel to other districts is forbidden upon pain of death. Similar to Russia under Soviet rule.

Technology and refinements are kept at the Capitol. They are never allowed in the districts unless it helps the Capitol. So a newer train might be used to transport the coal to the Capitol, but aren't used to travel between the districts. In comparison, the level of technology in most districts is slightly above Medieval unless you are talking about the screens which are turned on when announcements are made from the Capitol. And the concept of "Do not bind the mouths of the kine who tread the grain" is unheard of. So, coal miners can heat their home only if they have enough money to pay for the coal. The coal is the property of the Capitol.

As a reader, you experience this world from Katniss living in it. She is the heroine. Her daily life is one long adventure after another. This is what interests young boys, the adventure and excitement -- it unapologetically has blood, guts, action, and nerve. Conservatives will be interested because it shows what an unchecked State can do to its citizens. Indeed, even if you remove all science fiction elements, this book still holds up as a fictional version of THE nightmare scenario for conservatives. I mean it could really happen here in the United States.

This book also gives hope, because Katniss creates a chink in the state’s armor. How she does it. . . well you will have to read the book.

Read it and ponder.

58 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Thanks for the review. I've been curious about this book, especially after hearing a lot of conservatives praise it. I think I see why. It sounds like a modern version of 1984

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

1984 is far more intellectual than this one. This hits you in the gut. The worse part of this is where you might have to kill your fellow tribute in order to win since there can be only one.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Sometimes the best political stories are the ones with the least obvious intellectual aspects. Hitting people in the gut can be much more effective.

I wonder what the author was thinking when she made up these books? I have my doubts she was thinking of writing a book conservatives would like, but you never know.

ScottDS said...

From what I understand, Suzanne Collins used to write for Nickelodeon shows like Clarissa Explains It All. How she made the transition to teen lit, I have no idea.

I haven't read the books but I might check them out one day. And I'll definitely Netflix the movie later. Right now, the studio is drawing up a director "wish list" since Gary Ross won't be doing the sequel.

(Sorry I don't have anything more substantial to contribute.) :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, She probably made the transition because that's where the money is in publishing at the moment. Everyone wants another Harry Potter.

I haven't read the books yet, but even my mother liked that and that's saying something. So I will definitely write them as soon as I get some time.

Joel Farnham said...

ScottDS,

This book is written the way Robert Heinlein wrote teen books. Always slightly subversive. I am not sure I want to see the movie, I don't like to be disappointed like I was with Starship Troopers. My wife has read it and is reading the rest of the series. She does want to see the movie, so I will see it.

If the movie is half as good as the book, I will feel that for the first time in a long while, Hollywood got it right.

DUQ said...

Joel, I read this and enjoyed it immensely. I see it like you do, as a real condemnation of what happens when a government gets absolute power.

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew,

How she got away with it is how any one gets away with writing something that the powers that be frown on. Science Fiction or History. These two genres seem to give immunity to subversive behavior.

And like I said, take away the Science Fiction and you get a solid story about a society controlling its population.

Joel Farnham said...

DUQ,

Have you read the whole trilogy? I couldn't wait to read the other two, so I stole them from my stepdaughter.

Jocelyn said...

I was actually thinking of suggesting Commentarama read/review Hunger Games as I think it's right up this blogs alley.

I'm in the middle of reading the 3rd book. I was really surprised, I initially thought it would be another Twilight book, but then found people compared it to 1984 and Battle Royale, so I decided to read it. I really enjoy reading it and now think it should be required reading in High Schools. I may see the movie, as movies usually disappoint, but who knows.

AndrewPrice said...

Jocelyn, I haven't heard of "Battle Royale"?

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: Hmmm. I wondered what all the talk was about. I haven't read the book(s) yet, nor seen the movie. But your synopsis does make the theme sound interesting. So far, all I knew of them was that there was a lot of controversy about whether the theme was pro-state or anti-state, liberal or conservative. Based on what you've said, it sounds like it might just be "decide for yourself." Thanks for the info.

Jocelyn said...

Andrew, Battle Royale is a Japanese Movie (that was a Book and Manga beforehand). Basically, the government decides it wants to run a test (I don't quite remember the reasoning) and they take a poor performing class in middle school, drug them, and dump them on an island and they all wake up with a tracker on them. It's basically battle to the death, but there are "Gamemakers", just like Hunger Games. They help control the environment to get the desired effect from the students. If, for example, a student doesn't follow the rules, the Gamemakers can set his tracker off, which causes the students head to explode. It's a very graphic movie, even more so in the book. But similar in it's use of an arena to have kids battle to the death, like Hunger Games. But now I don't really remember the purpose of it all. Still interesting nonetheless.

T-Rav said...

Thanks Joel!

I haven't read most of this book yet, and only started reading excerpts of it a few days before the movie came out. But I really want to when I get some leisure time. I saw the movie, and it's the first time my mom and my sisters and I have all been in agreement--it was good.

I've heard that the later books are libertarian/verging on anarchist, so I don't know if that makes them purposefully conservative-leaning. After all, we right-wingers believe in the need for a little government, just not much. But it's maybe one of those books that makes the case for conservatism and anti-statism without necessarily meaning to. Remember who wrote "1984."

Tam said...

This was my recent book group book, but since I don't jump on bandwagons as a rule, I won't probably read it for another 10 years when the hype dies down. The ladies in the club loved it and generally loved the movie too. Obviously it had to be condensed to fit the big ideas into movie time, but the consensus was that they did a good job with the movie compared to the book. Based on their opinions, I'd say it was at least half as good as the book.

Jocelyn said...

Hey Tam, I don't normally jump on bandwagons, almost never. It took me 10 years to read the Harry Potter books because I didn't want to be reading what everyone else was reading. But I have to say, I'm glad I jumped on the bandwagon with Hunger Games, it's definitely a good series.

rlaWTX said...

Very good review, Joel. And not very "spoilery" at all!
I reluctantly read the first book - to see what the fuss was about before the release of the movie. I immediately ordered 2&3. I began 2 late one evening, read it through and started on 3 (I read pretty fast), finishing it at about 3am. I really, really, really enjoyed them. The second book is the weakest of the three, but it has important character and plot development.

Katniss' heroism is strongest when she "volunteers". After that, she's in survival mode - and generally out of her depth. It does help if the reader remembers that she is a 17 year old girl and makes choices accordingly - even in her dark world.

Seeing her outlook on survival versus Peeta (all 3 books) and Gale (in 2&3) is an interesting contrast. None are "wrong", exactly, but you can see the +/- in each. Their outlooks inform how they react to the various events and to the overall tyranny of their political system.

I enjoyed the movie (not as great as the book). So much of the book is inside Katniss' head, and I think they did as well as they could translating that to screen. I wish the movie had emphasized the weirdness of the Capital a little more, and how they prepped the tributes. I liked the "additionals" - they pulled some interesting foreshadowing into this movie that the book didn't use. And President Snow was more present than he was in the book. (Sutherland did a good creepy job! He made me think of "blood & roses" [book 2]) I did not expect to like Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. he didn't fit my mental picture, but he did fit the character very well. I hope they do the next 2 movies quickly!!!!

I also hope my brother finishes reading them soon so I can re-read them!

rlaWTX said...

As for the political - like I said above, there is variety in how the characters respond, even as they are all going the same direction.

Joel made the point of keeping the Districts under their thumb - this is seen not only inthe miners having to buy coal, but also in the primitive mining conditions while the Capital has such amazing luxury. Also, each District has differing levels of enforcement. District 12 (Katniss & Peeta's) has historically enjoyed lax enforcement. Other Tributes tell about the tighter fist of the Capital. Which makes it even more jarring when they do tighten up on District 12.

Another important point of the series is the impact of a single event, a single choice, a single person on the whole. They allude to it in the movie, and it is blatant in the 2nd book: President Snow knows that Katniss' actions have huge implications. She isn't responsible for the rebellions, but she is the image of standing up to the Capital and becomes the symbol for the "last straw". I liked that Snow was in a Catch-22 over her win. Stop it and the Districts react; let her and the Districts react. Seventy-five years allowed the generations to be crushed and finally begin to fight back. (Only 75 years since the Hunger Games began, not since the creation of Panem. That is implied to have been around for many, many years before.)

Tennessee Jed said...

both book and movie were highly anticipated and are both worthwhile. One of those rare things where hype doesn't spoil it too much. Jennifer Lawrence from Louisville Kentucky was brilliant in Winter's Bone and proves she is not a fluke.

Crisd said...

Okay! I will ask my daughter for her books! Nice review and great commentary.

Tam said...

My two sisters who are also non-bandwagon girls gave me permission to jump on this one too. I probably will. Eventually.

AndrewPrice said...

Joceyln, Thanks! I'd never heard of that! That sounds like an interesting (and very Japanese) concept. I'll have to watch for that one. They've done a lot of really interesting things over there.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam and Joceyln, I love the Harry Potter series. I started reading right around the time the third book came out and I really loved it. It ended up being one of those people who pre-ordered it so I could read it as soon as possible after it was available!

I haven't read Hunger Games yet, but I've decided I will.

T-Rav said...

rla, having not read much of the book, let me make the following observations:

-I thought the movie could have mentioned the fact that the winner gets a lifetime supply of food, which is a big deal in the starving districts; hence the title. Just point out the motivation here for the tributes (beyond not getting killed, that is).

-The violence on-screen, in my opinion, was just right for a PG-13 movie. Not prolonged, but you know there's murder being committed here.

-The casting was pretty good overall. Lenny Kravitz and Elizabeth Banks were a bit weak, I thought; but Sutherland, Harrelson, Tucci, Hutcherson, Hemsworth, and above all Jennifer Lawrence were very effective in their performances.

-Finally, the key to both the book's and the movie's success is that it's not Twilight, by which I mean it doesn't focus on an emo love story. Some reviewer called Katniss the anti-Bella Swan, and they were right; she's tough, does what she has to to survive, and all that, which makes the relationships a bit more genuine as they unfold.

Like I said, I plan to read the books in full once I get the time.

rlaWTX said...

T-Rav, I meant to make your first point and got distracted by work (the nerve!) and forgot it - thanks for fixing that!!!

I agree with your other points as well.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I haven't read the books, but from what Joel and you say, it sounds like this world is similar to what the Soviet Union was. Moscow had everything. People in the rural regions has very dated technology, little electricity, high prices, no food, no goods, black markets, etc. Travel between regions was forbidden and no one was allowed to move to Moscow without permission.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Anything anti-Twilight is a positive in my mind!

Joel Farnham said...

Jocelyn,

Yes, the movie review of Hunger Games is right up this blog's alley. From what I see of the movie trailers and promotions, they firmly made it into a Science Fiction movie.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

I had wondered too, but my stepdaughter downloaded it on my kindle, and... well, I read it. Then I stole her books. ;-). I'll give them back....eventually.

This is about oppression. It is about control. In some ways the games feels like a gladiator sporting event held once a year. Except, some of the contestants are 12 years old.

Joel Farnham said...

Jocelyn,

Hunger Games reminded me of Running Man and a science fiction short story where a team from Soviets and a team from the United States, instead of fighting a global war, fight a smaller war in a an arena where it is viewed live. The winning team gets to be heroes while the country who supplies gets to decide world affairs.

They were far fetched and out there, especially the endings. This one hits closer to home. And the ending is not out there in left field.

Joel Farnham said...

T-Rav,

You may be right about that on the rest of the books. Libertarian.... The other two books could need a review as well. I am tempted..

Joel Farnham said...

Tam,

Why are you going to waste 10 years to read this book? It only took me a day to read it. And you will know what Katniss did.

Joel Farnham said...

rlaWTX,

Thanks. Andrew made me cut it down.

Joel Farnham said...

Jed,

Yep. Actual the hype really is nothing in comparison to the book(s).

Joel Farnham said...

CrisD,

You're welcome and you will enjoy it.

Joel Farnham said...

T-Rav,

I disagree. In the books, yes it is mentioned, but I think it emphasized more that only one survives and that it has been 24 years since district 12 has had a winner. Virtually certain that Katniss couldn't win.

Joel Farnham said...

Oh, and there is a love affair. It is THERE. It isn't between Katniss and Peeta. Nor is it between Katniss and Gale. It is between Katniss and the Audience. Think back to Gladiator where Maximus doesn't kill his opponent despite the Emperor willing it so. Remember how the audience treated Maximus?

Tam said...

Joel, I am just. so. stubborn! Besides, I just checked...there is a line 868 people deep at the library waiting for one of the 300 copies to come in. It will probably take 10 years for me to get to the front of the line.

Joel Farnham said...

Hmm. It says here that Hunger Games can be bought on line. Hmmm. $5.00 for a Kindle version. Hmmm. Me thinks you are using excuses.

Tam said...

And lazy. Stubborn and lazy. And I don't have a kindle.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, I don't want to interfere with stubborn and lazy, as those can be admirable qualities, but I can solve the Kindle question.

Here's a link that lets you download apps (from Amazon, for free) which turn almost any device into a Kindle. You can also read Kindle books online at the Amazon cloud. I've used it (there's tons of free stuff out there I'm reading) and it's really easy to use.

Kindle Apps

Doc Whoa said...

Joel, Well done. I haven't read this, but you've intrigued me.

Joel Farnham said...

Off Topic

Romney told Obama to start packing. Cool hunh?

Back to Topic

Andrew,

What is that old saw? You can lead something to something but you can't something or other.

Joel Farnham said...

Doc,

It is worth a read. It won't take you long.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Joel: Thanks for the excellent review!
I'm definitely gonna read the books and see the film now.

I read that some lefties actually view the rich as the oppresors in this story instead of the State (or a commie stle State to be more precise).
Talk about being totally clueless.

They simply cannot comprehend that this always happens when a State takes away liberty and controls peoples very lives.

Apparently, they think their idea of socialism would never do this, despite the massive historical and present day evidence to the contrary.

They have innoculated themselves to reality and truth.

Tam said...

Oh my goodness, Andrew! You've gone and taken away my lazy excuse! And Joel, are you saying I'm something, or something?

Joel Farnham said...

Ben,

You will find that the oppressors in this book have inoculated themselves as well. To them, they think this is great. They don't understand. They think nothing of the people's lives they disrupt. They are giddy. Vain. Insular. Decadent even. They can't see except the superficial.

It doesn't surprise me that the current socialists can't see themselves in this. "It's because it never has been done by US". It always is this way. Then the next step is "TRUST US, you won't be sorry."

Joel Farnham said...

Tam,

I don't know what you are talking about.


[snicker]

DUQ said...

Joel, I've read all three back to back to back. That's one of the benefits of being late to a bandwagon!

Joel Farnham said...

DUQ,

I just finished all three back to back. Whew!

Not five minutes ago. All I can say is, "When is her next book coming out?"

are you afraid of the dark said...

Nice post i am waiting for more post.



Are you afraid of the dark
AYAOTD

tryanmax said...

ok Im sold. downloading to kindle now.

Joel Farnham said...

tryanmax,

It is a great read.

rlaWTX said...

Joel, glad I could help in the war against the oppressive editors! ;)
I just really liked these books. I think that there is so much packed in them - I wonder if the author meant for all of this, or if some of it just grew out of the story (ex: how the 3 characters deal with the violence, the struggle, the rebellion).



[trying not to spoiler:
A theme that I find interesting is how Gale's embracing the purpose of the rebellion lets Katniss maintain her idealism and "enlightened self-interest" until the end.
Our paper has a weekly section that local kids write, and one did reviews over the books. She stated that she thought that the end wasn't good vs. evil. It was bad vs. bad. I just shook my head. She decided this because the "good guys" did bad things at the end too. I hope that one day she'll see it was a picture of the corrupting influence of power that led to the bad thing, and that it wasn't the rebellion as a whole being no better than the Capital.]

Joel Farnham said...

rlaWTX,

Extreme Spoiler Alert - This has to do with the final climax of the third book.

Yes, it was. Why do you think Katniss killed Coin? Coin wanted to recreate the Hunger Games only apply them to the Capitol Children. Coin set up Katniss to be killed. Why do you think Katniss agreed to it. So that Coin would stand in her line of fire while she was supposed to kill Snow.

rlaWTX said...

Spoilers ahead:


Joel- Yep. at that point I was hoping she would do what she did, but I honestly wasn't sure the author would do it. That was pretty much the first non-necessary-for-immediate-survival killing for Katniss.

Snow was creepy, but knew what he was and was honest to Katniss about it - I thought that was interesting. That arc through the books was a good touch. Snow wasn't just a distant monster - he was a close-up, real-life monster distorted by power and fear of losing power.

One can probably argue that Coin & war co-opted Gale, but I really feel that he was true to his character and his motivations - revenge-tinged principles and realism - all the way through.

I really love these books. They are so deep and nuanced for young adult fiction!!!

Joel Farnham said...

More Spoilers

Think about how District 13 controlled everyone's movement from the time they were in 13 to the time they finally left and regimenting the citizens into an amorphous blob showed that Coin didn't have a clue as to what freedom really is. All Coin wanted was power, and had no problem sending 13 year old Prim to the front lines to get it.

rlaWTX said...

more...

I can see the need for control during a war in a war zone - martial law of a kind - esp. after trying to hide from the Capital for so long. But you are right that Coin was all about power and control, and saw herself as the obvious leader of a military junta instead of ushering in an experiment in republican democracy...

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