Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset (The Hunger Games, #1-3)The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As many know, I don't readily give out 5-star reviews. In this case I'm compelled to do so. Why, when this isn't a literary series of books, but rather genre fiction? Because Suzanne Collins clearly demonstrates mastery of her craft, and by virtue of that talent she deserves high accolades.

If I had to use one word to summarize The Hunger Games trilogy it would be riveting. It isn't often a writer creates plot and characters so real, so compelling, I am haunted by them throughout both waking and dreaming hours.

Although the premise is simple: evil overlord/government reigns through tyranny, oppression and manipulation, it's this latter, Collins weaves so deftly through her story and thereby creates screaming tension and sense of outrage.

The language throughout is simple, conversational, written in first person present tense, not an easy feat, but certainly one done so deftly as a reader this literary device slides by almost unnoticed. And yet it is the use of first person, present tense which enhances the immediacy of the story. Like the children who are forced to participate in the killing-field of the Hunger Games, the reader is held suspended in the now, aware of the horror of the past, and the promise of only more horror to come. And although Collins periodically weaves in a moment of hope, they are so fleeting as to be like sunlight through storm clouds, and because of that poignant.

Simple moments become moments of import, both terrible and glorious. She has a way of setting up her reader, and then not only pulling out the rug, but the floor, collapsing the walls, leaving you wounded in rubble.

If you haven't already found yourself caught up in the hype around The Hunger Games I can assure you the trilogy is well worth the time and emotion you will expend.

I have every confidence this series will be studied in classrooms alongside other SF greats like The Lord of the Flies, 1984, and Brave New World.

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

The dangers of silence

I was advised very early when I first established my own blog to keep it focused, to keep it out of controversial subjects. Always thought that was a bit ridiculous, being the passionate, idealistic sort of person I am. I've always thought people had an intrinsic right to express opinions in an intelligent, non-violent fashion. This is, after all, how we learn about one another, reach broader perspectives, perhaps even greater understanding.

This morning this foundation of freedom of information and speech, however, has been somewhat shaken by two seemingly disparate and yet similar occurrences from two allegedly polar political extremes. One comes from a British broadcaster in Tiananmen Square, who has been detained by Chinese officials without apparent reason, seemingly because he mentioned the infamous student uprising of 1989. (A year that will forever be etched upon my memory.)

Concurrent with that is a report is one here in Canada about yet another attempt by our Conservative government to muzzle any perceived disagreement with Prime Minister Harper's policies. This time it's not our scientists who are targeted, but rather Library and Archives employees. Now, it would appear, not only are our scientists being muzzled, but the archivists and employees who safeguard the bulk of Canada's history and intellectual properties.

It would seem the Harper government is steadily working toward shutting down the dissemination of information to Canadians, especially information the government deems we should not receive. Much of this, I'm sure, is done under some misguided sense of national security. But in truth, it has more to do with control of the people, because restriction of information is one of the first strategies toward control implemented by any totalitarian regime. Doesn't matter what label you put on that regime: Communist, Fascist: go far enough in any direction and it all ends up in the same place.

Here, however, in this country called Canada, where we've championed human rights, won Nobel prizes and  international recognition for our peace-keeping efforts, we're rapidly moving toward a government that serves not the people, but rather a self-serving political agenda and party that is all about consolidation of power and repression of any dissent.

How, then, does that make our current government any less insidious, dangerous, mis-representative of the people than China's government?

And why should this writer and this publisher care so very vehemently about the direction our Canadian government is heading?

Because I am a writer. Because my existence is based upon the gathering of knowledge, the dissemination of that knowledge, and the free exchange of ideas. Because I am a publisher, and the ability to provide knowledge to people is just part of the paradigm of my publishing house, and my own life.

So, in Canada, if elections can be skewed through the manipulation of information through robocalls, if scientists are no longer allowed to publish or discuss their findings without first receiving government sanction, and if the gatekeepers of our collective knowledge are no longer the non-political archivists and librarians of the nation but rather one political party serving its own interests -- then how is Canada any different from any despotic nation on the planet?

Sure, we're not incarcerating protesters. Yet. Sure, we're not shooting down protesters. Yet.

But as both a writer and a publisher I become increasingly concerned that Big Brother Canada is watching, listening, and at any time the wealth of small, independent publishers and authors across this nation will fall under the same cloak of silence, because we won't have the international political or economic clout to take on the juggernaut of Harper's regime. What if silencing scientists and librarians isn't enough? What if the Harper government chooses to silence other outlets of information? Our magazines, our newspapers, our publishers, our writers? What, if like China, our government chooses to monitor the Internet and social media, and individuals start receiving polite but pointed gag-orders from the Prime Minister's office?

Nonsense, many will say. Lorina, you're chasing shadows.

Really? How is it, then, other totalitarian governments have come to exist? Because the people did nothing. Because people shrugged their massive shoulders and said it can never happen here. We're civilized. Nothing extreme going on here.

But it is. Right now. Right under our noses. Tampering with elections. Silencing of scientists. Silencing of librarians. Will you be next? Will I?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Review: And All the Stars

Andrea K. Höst writes a credible alien-invasion story in her novel And All the Stars. The pacing is brisk, characters well-defined and believable, alien concept freshly original, and the writing is crisp, at times startling. And if this is a self-published book, as I suspect, Höst deserves a great deal of credit, because this is just the best damned SF novel I've read in quite some time.

Höst writes about a complex alien invasion in which there are many forms of alien that descend to earth, all with the intent of staging a series of life and death games, using human hosts like clothing easily discarded, all to determine the next ruler of their hierarchical clan system.

Caught in this invasion are a group of young people who learn to live and work together to at first escape, and eventually overthrow, their alien overlords, while dealing with their own physical transformation, induced by an alien infection.

As a pleasant aside, the novel is set in Australia, and doesn't have a single American-centric moment.

My only criticism, and it is slight, is a lack of development as to how society's infrastructure continues to operate when that society comes to a standstill. There is amazingly still power that runs refrigeration, lights, allowing batteries to be recharged. The Internet remains intact, without seemingly having anyone there to maintain servers and satellites and cables. Food choices for the ravenously blue-stained humans consistently revert to sugar-based foods, without scientific background as to why sugar could sustain such enormous physical output, something which flies in the face of conventional wisdom. And Höst's society is remarkably dominated by youth. Rarely a person under 21 makes any significant appearance, which is another plausibility point given the depth of scientific knowledge required to understand and take down the alien invasion.

But, truly, I quibble.

This is a really great read, and as soon as you can, if you love SF, you need to acquire a copy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Goddess Chronicle: Review

It's always difficult to review a translated work, because when you come across either brilliance or lack of lustre, it's difficult to assess whether that boon or bane is attributable to the author or the translator.

Such is the case with <The Goddess Chronicle</i>, by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Rebecca Copeland.

The story is a retelling of an original Japanese creation story. I suspect the original work by Kirino is a charged, tight story. Copeland's translation, however, lacks passion, and certainly this is a story about passion, in fact eons of passion as we trace the history of the Yin/Yang gods of Izanami and Izanaki through the mortal lives of Namima and her unscrupulous lover.

There is much here of sibling rivalry and betrayal of sacred trusts, of epic journeys both temporal and spiritual. There is a genesis story, a parallel to the Greek Persephone myth. There is the struggle of the desperately poor serving religious tenets that serve only to embed their poverty.

It's all there. And not a single phrase of elegance or startling insight to lift the reader from a grey narrative to the chiaroscuro the story demands.