January 4 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was a fairly gripping read. It is the first book in a trilogy. It is a YA novel about a future North American continent that has been through a destructive war and is divided between a tyrannical Capital state and twelve subsidiary districts. Every year each district selects a boy and a girl between 12 and 18 by lottery to take place in a gladiatorial event known as The Hunger Games. The Games are to the death–only 1 person can emerge from them, everyone else dies. Those selected are known as tributes.
The Games are put on to remind the districts just who is in charge and how powerless they are. The people are repressed as it is, the Games are one more way to emphasize this.
The point of view character is a 16 year old girl named Katniss. Katniss has had a tough time growing up in District 12. Her father was killed in a coal mining accident and she had to provide for her mother and younger sister by poaching for game outside the perimeter of District 12. This is both dangerous because of wild animals and because it is illegal–if she is caught she could be executed.
Katniss is chosen for the Games and we follow her closely. This makes for a fast paced read. It is well written and I did enjoy it, however I had some trouble really liking any of the characters. Katniss feels real, but is not a terribly easy to know person. Her difficult upbringing has rendered her remote and without much empathy for people outside her family or the needs of survival. This is understandable as these are traits she needed to survive growing up and will need for the Games. It just makes it a bit harder to really get behind her. Luckily, most of the other 23 tributes aren’t real likable themselves.
I enjoyed this and plan to read the next books as it does seem like an interesting world with quite a lot of room for the story to grow in potentially very intriguing ways..

January 3 2012

Human for a Day

“Human for a Day” is a wonderful anthology with 16 stories on the subject of what it would mean for someone(something) to be human for a day. It was edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Jennifer Brozek.
I enjoyed all of the stories in this book. That’s fairly rare for an anthology for me. Usually there will be a couple that don’t do much for me. In this case, there was a good consistent level throughout.
In particular, the stories “THE MAINSPRING OF HIS HEART, THE SHACKLES OF HIS SOUL” by Ian Tregillis and “CINDERELLA CITY” by Seanan McGuire appealed to me.
The Tregillis story had me as soon as it mentioned a shipment of tulip bulbs as a gift. It went on from there as a very interesting story about the desire of a steampunkish automaton to become human and the ramification thereof. I was particularly struck by what seemed to be a depth of world building background behind the story. Very well crafted.
The McGuire tale centered around the city of San Francisco becoming incorporeal. I enjoyed the general story there and the thought of cities being aware was a good one. Any story with a command of “Pigeons, kill.” has something really going for it.
As I said, those two stories particularly appealed to me, but I enjoyed all of the rest. Very well done.

January 1 2012

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler is the sixth novel featuring Philip Marlowe. It was published in 1953 in the UK and 1954 in the US and won the 1955 Edgar award for best mystery novel–the second Edgar. His wife, Cissy, died in 1954 and he wrote the novel while caring for her as she lay ill in their home.
Chandler’s prose is fantastic as always with gems like “The ground sloped towards the lake, which was as motionless as a sleeping cat” and “He was as calm as an adobe wall in the moonlight” but in this work Chandler’s plotting strides right along with the prose. I really enjoyed this book.
The novel has multiple threads of stories that entwine and tie together both within the plot of the novel as a whole and as a reflection of events in Chandler’s life and as a commentary upon society at large. I’m not going to talk much about the actual plot in the book as you can readily find synopses online.
One plot-line, features an alcoholic writer and in this we can see reflections of Chandler himself. At one point Marlowe is helping move the writer who has passed out outside his house. Marlowe notes:

… It’s a warm night, but cases like this get pneumonia very easily.

This line is sadly prophetic as Chandler was to die on March 26, 1959 at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla of complications from pneumonia worsened by drinking.
In the following exchange, Marlowe is speaking to a very wealthy man who figures somewhat behind the scenes:

“Okay, Mr. Potter, what goes from here?”
He wasn’t listening. He was frowning at his own thoughts. “There’s a peculiar thing about money,” he went on. “In large quantities it tends to have a life of its own, even a conscience of its own. The power of money becomes very difficult to control. Man has always been a venal animal. The growth of populations, the huge costs of wars, the incessant pressure of confiscatory taxation—all these things make him more and more venal. The average man is tired and scared, and a tired, scared man can’t afford ideals. He has to buy food for his family. In our time we have seen a shocking decline in both public and private morals. You can’t expect quality from people whose lives are a subjection to a lack of quality. You can’t have quality with mass production. You don’t want it because it lasts too long. So you substitute styling, which is a commercial swindle intended to produce artificial obsolescence. Mass production couldn’t sell its goods next year unless it made what it sold this year look unfashionable a year from now. We have the whitest kitchens and the most shining bathrooms in the world. But in the lovely white kitchen the average American housewife can’t produce a meal fit to eat, and the lovely shining bathroom is mostly a receptacle for deodorants, laxatives, sleeping pills, and the products of that confidence racket called the cosmetic industry. We make the finest packages in the world, Mr. Marlowe. The stuff inside is mostly junk.”
He took out a large white handkerchief and touched his temples with it. I was sitting there with my mouth open, wondering what made the guy tick. He hated everything.

The tirade leaves Marlowe a bit flabbergasted but he understands the wealthy well enough. In another exchange he mentions:

“You people with a lot of money are really something,” I said. “You think anything you choose to say, however nasty, is perfectly all right. You can make sneering remarks about Wade and his wife to a man you hardly know, but if I hand you back a little change, that’s an insult.”

In addition to social and self commentary, Chandler was an astute judge of people and technology. Marlowe has the following thought:

There is something compulsive about a telephone. The gadget-ridden man of our age loves it, loathes it, and is afraid of it. But he always treats it with respect, even when he is drunk. The telephone is a fetish.

This little gem could easily be said of people and their cellphones today.

Through the story Marlowe maintains his core value of not betraying a client or knuckling to authority just because it might be the easy or safe thing to do. He ponders his chess problems and reflects that:

To say goodbye is to die a little.