“The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins

Review May Contain Spoilers!


I had never heard of The Hunger Games before it was recommended to me. I read the back of the book and was immediately a bit leery. The premise sounded a lot like a novel I read a few years ago called Battle Royale, and I’m usually automatically suspicious of popular novels, especially after the psuedo-romance hit Twilight.

In The Hunger Games (book 1 of the trilogy), a group of districts is controlled by one central district: The Capital. The Capital subordinates society and intimidates its citizens by hosting an annual lottery, where each of 12 districts draws one boy and one girl to participate in a fight to the death. The novel is written in first person, from the perspective of the novel’s protagonist, Katniss. Katniss is portrayed as a cold and rational, but naive, young woman who, since her father’s death, has been providing for her family as a hunter. Much of the novel is about the preparation for the Games, where Katniss demonstrates her archery skills for sponsors, tries to gain a psychological advantage over the other tributes, is interviewed, and tries to look pretty.

I will admit that the novel is catchy. It is the type that keeps you reading until the very end. It was difficult to finish in a way, though, because there were some essential things that did not make sense and that really detracted from the book’s merit.

To start, compared with Battle Royale‘s thought out battle arena, the author of The Hunger Games is pretty “cheap” at times, throwing in random events that really cut down on the excitement. If you’re looking for a good story about survival and how the children pit themselves against each other, you’ll be disappointed. Too many times the “leaders” of the Hunger Games throw in random events that end up killing or saving the contestants sporadically. For me, that was a disappointment. It just seemed like a cop-out by the author that at any given moment these leaders could set the rules and change the game. What makes any “game” fun is seeing who wins through skills, not through the referees changing the rules. Here, there’s always an easy way out for the characters or some sort of rule change or random happening to frivolously change the course of events.

If I seem cold about the topic, it’s because the author makes it so. Looking at the premise objectively, it is a tragic story about children forced to kill each other. The idea is horrific. But the author makes it seem so casual, as if it were just a simple game. The protagonist has time to worry about crushes, and who she likes better, this boy or this boy – which seems ridiculous, given the circumstances. Petty, almost. In the context, it could have been carried out realistically, because love does not disappear altogether in such situations, but the author makes some characters so superficial about their attraction for each other that the concept is almost offensive.

Overall, the characters and their evaluations of each other can be ridiculous. Katniss, for example, adores her clothing designer, who designs her outfits for the games. Can one imagine, being in such a circumstance, and adoring a person who is directly involved, arguably directly sanctioning, the situation? One woman starts off being so disgusting with her actions and the way she conducts herself, but Katniss comes to like her too, apparently, and the woman seems to be a different person by the end of the games – not through a natural transformation of character, but rather, a case of the author seeming to forget who the woman was that she was writing about and thus, changing the woman completely.

I will admit, however, that the author does have a way of creating a picture in your mind. The novel is a very simple read, and it really catches your interest from the beginning. But the issues that catch your interest end up being poorly executed. It seems as if the author just sat down and wrote, without any planning. The happenings in the novel usually aren’t very clever and are often inconsistent or don’t make logical sense. *But*, there are a few clever turns that impressed me, but they were the minority.

I give The Hunger Games 2 out of 5 stars. I will see the movie out of curiosity, but I likely will not read the rest of the trilogy. It is a short read, but read at your own risk.

Edward Cline’s “Sparrowhawk, Book One: Jack Frake”

Sparrowhawk:Jack Frake is book one of a series of six novels. It is partly a coming of age novel, part historical fiction. Jack Frake is a strong young Englishman who escapes his family to work with a group of smugglers. The novel is a tale of his spiritual growth, of his finding of himself, and the story of his friends and their fates. It takes place in the period just before the American Revolution.

The novel is full of adventure and suspense, and the characters are consistent and well-developed. Jack Frake is truly inspiring, and well embodies my favorite novelist Ayn Rand’s statement, “so he is a being of self-made soul…” The characters that the reader meets throughout the novel are consistent heroes who address and demonstrate the injustices that took place during the time. Those injustices are timeless, and though the American Revolution and the true monarchy of England took place hundreds of years ago, the themes of this novel still hold true today. Edward Cline’s Sparrowhawk is a must read.

 

Wilbur Smith’s “Hungry as the Sea”

Hungry as the Sea is an adventure novel written by author Wilbur Smith.

The story begins on protagonist Nicholas Berg’s salvage liner. He is a successful businessman, but recent events have left him nearly bankrupt. Specifically, a former colleague “stole” his wife and acquired the company of which they were partners. Berg is given a promising opportunity to save his company when an expensive ship owned by the novel’s antagonist is wrecked in the Artic. What follows is the most exciting part of the book – we follow Nicholas Berg on his adventure to salvage a massive cruise liner in the freezing temperatures of the Artic Sea.

After these events took place in the novel I began to wonder what else the book could possibly have to offer. There were still over 300 pages to read! I thought that I may be in for more adventure.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. After the events with the ship salvage, the plot seemed to fall apart. The villain was, of course, an evil businessman who did not care about the ecology and life in the ocean (and it is briefly stated that he also does not worry about quality when he makes ships – because all he cares about is money. This is not realistic because quality and profit go hand in hand). I did not encounter another exciting event 200 pages further into the novel – it was mostly descriptions of rendezvous between the protagonist and his lover, ranging between her showing him her experiments as a marine biologist to them discussing the evils of the boating and oil industry that pollute the ocean. He then agrees to join her in her academic crusade to end such evils. The villain and the “stolen” wife had not made an appearance for a few hundred pages at this point, and I began to wonder of their significance. The new conflict arising seemed to be the protagonist against the evils of pollution. Boring.

I was uninterested at this point in the book, and with the addition of the poor philosophical plot points, I had to discontinue reading. The beginning of this novel was very fun and suspenseful, so it may be worth your time to read it just to enjoy that aspect. After the salvage, however, the novel becomes a bore.

Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”

I enjoyed the first 3/4 of Ender’s Game.

Ender is an admirable, mature young child who is very intelligent but confused about the nature of his actions and of his future. He has been drafted into a military school that will prepare him to be a military leader in an ongoing war between humans and an alien race. The alien race is capable of wiping out humanity, and Ender appears to be the only hope of success.

Throughout Ender’s Game, the reader is provided with insights into Ender’s psychology and of the games and social situations that he experiences, which are all set up as an attempt to prepare him to be a battle leader.  The early story is filled with suspense, as it becomes clear that Ender, for reasons that we do not know, is the only human being capable of defeating the alien race.  Ender experiences conflict after conflict during his preparation, and the reader grows to admire Ender as he overcomes difficult situations and grows and learns from his experiences. The reader sees Ender stress and toil mentally in a moral conundrum regarding war and his role in the world, and the reader becomes eager to see who he will become as he matures.

There is quite an element of mystery throughout Ender’s Game. Card provokes questions for which the reader is excited to find answers. We come to wonder why Ender is so important, why he must be pushed through such excruciatingly stressful tests at such a young age, among many other fascinating questions that moves one along through the story.

Then comes the ending. I was disappointed. The questions that I was excited to have answered were answered (kind of) – but the answers were not fitting nor exciting, and did not really thoroughly explain some important aspects of the story. Reading Ender’s Game was like unwrapping a big, pretty looking present and finding something small and ugly at the bottom. I enjoy stories that are tightly knit, with satisfying, logical answers. This story set up interesting questions, but the author obviously did not know how to answer them and did not knit up the story in a skillful manner. The ending seemed rushed and not thought out.

It is bad enough that the ending was un-clever and uninteresting – what’s worse is that the author tries to get philosophical.  It is a lazy attempt. He aims to teach the reader a lesson about the morality of war, throws in some mysticism regarding death, and implies that human life is deterministic (i.e. that individuals do not have control of their lives), all in the last 25-50 pages of the book. Regarding the book’s determinism, Card sets up a situation where a person (Ender) is forced into an army, and then Card takes the fact that the boy had no choice about the matter as an intrinsic absolute regarding human existence – as if all life were necessarily that way, and as if one has no choice about his destiny, his character, or his life. Card’s view on the matter is summed in one sentence, in the dialogue of one of the main characters.

Because of the ending, this book was not worth the time spent reading it.

“Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” by Leonard Peikoff

I’m so happy that this book exists.

Although Ayn Rand is the best representative of her philosophy, Peikoff does a great job of taking all of her work and condensing and summarizing it in one text. Obviously he could not include 100% of the material, as Rand’s work spans throughout hundreds of lectures, articles, and books, but he does a great job taking the essentials of the philosophy and explaining these essentials in a way that is accessible to any reader. This book is written by Peikoff, not Rand, although Peikoff often uses quotes by her for the purpose of clarity.

This book took me a long time to read because it is very heavy reading. It takes a constant level of focus and deep thinking. Peikoff organized the book and its content very well; he usually begins by summing up the essential points of a philosophical principle, providing proof for it, providing counterarguments, and refuting those counterarguments. I appreciated (and this is minor) that he offered some comic relief and some dramatic prose in some places (this is an academic read and it was nice for me to also be a bit entertained by his jokes).

I will probably have to reread this text because there is a *lot* of material. Peikoff covers entirely the principles of Objectivism. I learned many things, and by the second chapter I was already seeing my method of thinking in everyday life improve.

When I say that this text was heavy reading, I don’t meant that, like most philosophical texts, you will have to sift through a mess of jargon and ideas that have no reference to your life or reality. Rather, this text is difficult because there is a lot of valuable material, and to be able to integrate it and understand the points, you will have to focus and make an effort to compare the ideas to reality, integrate the ideas provided with the rest of the philosophy, and if you choose, integrate the principles into your life.

This is such a valuable read for anyone who is seeking happiness in life and wants to learn how to reason properly and logically (which is a prerequisite for happiness). It is *well* worth the time to put in at least one read. I can assure you after reading it once (if you make an effort to understand and integrate the principles), you will have improved as a person, and you will probably love it so much that you will want to read it again!

“The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers” by Ayn Rand

The first important aspect that I noticed about this book was that the advice offered is not only for writing purposes, but also for thinking purposes. I recall reading paragraphs where Rand discusses free will in relation to writing, among other things. It was fascinating to find these insights that compared the task of writing to the task of thought.

It was very helpful to me to have a comprehensive guide to non-fiction writing, as my earlier approach tended to be to simply write a draft, edit it once, and be done with it. This book describes the entire process of writing non-fiction, from determining one’s subject and theme, to writing an outline, to the entire editing process. Subjects are not limited to writing Op-eds and articles – Rand also offers advice pertaining to book reviews, which I found interesting and useful.  Also included is advice about writing entire non-fiction texts.

Rand is very organized and clear with her advice. She offers concrete examples for her abstract statements so that the reader can better understand the points provided. Also, I was excited to find that she offers exercises for the reader to practice, including providing articles and having the reader 1. determine the subject and theme of the article provided and 2. creating an outline based on the article to practice essentialization, which is an invaluable skill to possess when writing.

This is an exceptional guide for anyone who is interested in improving their writing (and thinking!) skills.

“Objectivism In One Lesson: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Ayn Rand” by by Andrew Bernstein

Be aware that this is a dense, intellectual read.

It is a concise, condensed lesson on the fundamentals of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. It does a great job of making clear, informative points in a way that is understandable to any inquiring reader that is willing to think critically and actively. This book is not necessarily an easy read; one must focus throughout it to understand the hierarchical points presented; however, it presents the philosophy in an intelligible manner.

In short, the difficult aspects of this book are comprehending and integrating the philosophical points – not sifting through incomprehensible jargon and attempting to interpret or unravel illogical arguments, as many philosophical texts require.

Each chapter builds on the previous ones, and the author revisits points made in previous chapters to clarify the positions provided. He offers summaries of chapters and ends the book with a succinct summary of the essentials of Objectivism. He has certainly done his best to ensure that the reader understands the arguments provided and offers numerous concrete examples to clarify abstract positions.

For anyone who wants a brief, but thorough, summary of Objectivism, this is the book to read. It serves as a satisfying, accessible introductory text for those who are curious or are seeking to refine their knowledge about the principles of Objectivism.