Deconstructing The Hunger Games

Okay, I have figured out the magical formula for making a hit dystopian science fiction Young Adult book.

(This unpublished gem has been sitting in my drafts since April 16, 2012.)

The Hunger Games
Stolen image of The Hunger Games’s book cover from

Okay, I have figured out the magical formula for making a hit Young Adult book. It’s really quite easy.

The story elements in The Hunger Games:

A smart and tough, but emotionally vulnerable hero.

A love triangle with a bunch of confused feelings.

A personal vendetta against a villain.

A villain that singles out the hero for humiliation.

A powerful government regime oppressing the rights of the people.

An underdog rebel force fighting for freedom.

A last-man-standing fight to the death that the hero must survive.

A series of deadly tricks and traps for the hero(s) to overcome.

A caricature or exaggeration of modern American society.

The writing style in The Hunger Games:

First person, present tense.

Very concise, easy-to-read prose.

Cliffhanger chapter endings.

Sparse descriptions.

Very few adverbs.

Taboos in The Hunger Games:

I don’t know if this is true of all Young Adult books, and now I’m pretty curious to find out, but I found it amusing to note that, apparently, the subject matter of a Young Adult novel is very specific about what must be censored. What I mean is this: You can put kids into an arena and have them kill each other with swords and spears and bows, in extremely gory detail. You can drop bombs on groups of kids, then have people rush in to help them, then drop more bombs on the helpers. You can burn people, you can decapitate people, you can dismember people.

But you cannot swear, ever. And you absolutely positively MUST NOT mention anything more sexual than a kiss.

Ender’s Game

I just finished the audiobook for Ender’s Game.

I just finished the audiobook for Ender’s Game, which I have never read before. I’ve missed quite a few science fiction classics over the years, so I’m trying to make up for it with my Audible credits. The audiobook, by the way, was very well read.

I don’t know what I would have thought if I’d read this book when I was younger, but now, I found it to be a tragically depressing story. Basically it’s about the military using a child to commit genocide on an alien race.

I think the reason this book has been so well-received over the years is that it’s not a typical science-fiction book. Most SF books tend to be about the science, and the characters and story are pretty secondary. For example, I listened to The Mote in God’s Eye about a year ago – a brilliant, classic SF book – but I couldn’t tell you the name of any of the the characters or anything about their personalities or any of the problems they faced. But I could tell you a fair amount about the Moties and their culture and their evolution, because that was the main focus of the book. The story was just a vehicle to write about an interesting alien species.

But in Ender’s Game, the science takes a back seat. The science is almost non-existent, actually. We are never told exactly *how* Ender interacts with his games, for example. It could be a keyboard, a touch screen, telepathy, switches and levers, or anything in between. It doesn’t really matter. The book is all about Ender the boy and his interactions with other boys and girls. If it had been *just* Ender and his struggles with not wanting to kill people yet being trained to kill people, that would have been pretty dull, because that story has been done to death. But with the addition of his mean older brother and his compassionate older sister, it turned into a kind of touching family story.

As I was reading, I noticed there was very little set description in it. Most of it took place in the proverbial white fog, which is somewhat unusual I think for science fiction. I don’t remember any descriptions of the Battle School, or the Command School. I had no real sense of what any of the "games" looked like. Maybe that is another reason the book made such an impact. It gives me hope because I don’t feel like I’m very good at describing settings.

Latest Audibooks I’ve Listened To

I’ve been on an audiobook kick lately.

I’ve been on an audiobook kick lately. I realize it’s “cheating” to listen to a book instead of read it, but it’s just so darn convenient. You can actually accomplish other things simultaneously while listening to a book (like driving, washing dishes, playing games, paying bills, etc.), whereas if you read a book, it’s pretty much all you can do.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton. Great nostalgia book, although I could have lived without the cliche “real world is better than the virtual world” moral.

Hunted by Kevin Hearne, read by Luke Daniels. The latest in the Iron Druid Chronicles (#6 I think). Another highly entertaining episode from the life and times of Atticus O’Sullivan, this time covering his run across Europe while being chased by Roman and Greek hunting goddesses Diana and Artemis. This is the only “series” that I religiously keep up with. I like the IDC because Luke Daniels is an incredibly good reader, Hearne is a good story-teller, and the stories go into a lot of interesting mythology without being too cheesy. Also, it’s one of the few Urban Fantasy series that doesn’t focus on vampires and werewolves.

Redshirts by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton. This book is awesome. I listened to the entire ~8 hours on a Saturday. I loved it because it’s the kind of thing I might have written, except I would have considered it way too absurd and silly for anyone but me to find it amusing. I also would have been too obsessed with trying to come up with a logical reason for *why* fictional characters would become sentient – Scalzi made no such attempt – they just are (or else the explanation is so obscure that I missed it). It’s a book that starts out being unabashedly comedic, then gets pretty serious and thought-provoking by the time the three codas come around.

Inferno by Dan Brown, read by Paul Michael. It showed up on the front page on Audible, so I got it with one of my credits. Whatever, so sue me. This book is pretty much exactly the same as every previous Robert Langdon book: He meets a woman and together they run from secret organizations and the government while decrypting puzzles. This time, the lessons are about Dante’s Inferno and excessive global population. Paul Michael is a good reader; it’s a lot more entertaining to listen to Dan Brown than to read it.

Ready Player One – Start!

I’m finally listening to the audiobook of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

I’m finally listening to the audiobook of the much-talked-about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Internet super-celebrity Wil Wheaton.

Though I’m only a handful of chapters into it, this book is clearly an 80s geek subculture nerdgasm from start to finish. It’s fascinating, hilarious, and depressing – despressing because of how many of the obscure references I understand (like, roughly, all of them).

Now I’m going to take the fanboy hat off and put on the author hat. This book has a lot of exposition. I mean a lot of it. There are what I assume are pages and pages and pages of telling, not showing. I think there was one whole chapter telling Halliday’s life story. He’s basically John Carmack on steroids, which is neat if you know anything about computer gaming history, but it really didn’t do much to serve the story right then.

This book is yet another first-person-sarcastic-narrator book. I’m starting to think of all of these books as extended blog posts. This is not necessarily a good thing, in my opinion. I’m thinking that I will distinguish myself in my writing career by being one of the only authors never to write a first person book. Or perhaps to be the first author to write a first person book from the perspective of someone without a sense of humor. Or, I could write the same first-person book as everyone else and make some money. Probably I’ll do that last thing.

Ready Player One is yet another dystopian future book, this time with an energy crisis that destroys the near-future world. The green movement subtext is not very subtle. My jaw still hurts from being punched in the face with it. Personally, I have a hard time believing that fossil fuels are going to run out in our lifetimes.

Now if I can put on my programmer hat on for a second, there are a number of engineering problems with this Oasis system. I can buy the VR goggles (see Oculus Rift), but the haptic gloves stretch the limit of credibility. Even suspending disbelief enough to assume they work exactly as described and you can reach out and touch objects in the virtual world, how would you make your avatar *move* in Oasis? Wade runs quite a bit when he goes to the Tomb of Horrors. Would you have to dogpaddle your hands in the air? There’s nothing hooked up to your real-world legs. Maybe there are footpedals on the floor that aren’t described. Or maybe a virtual keyboard and mouse appears, or a virtual game controller perhaps, that you operate with your virtual hands and fingers. That’s not even talking about the two sentences of hand-waving magic that somehow allows Oasis to support millions of simultaneous, realistically-rendered users without any lag or processing delay. I don’t even think *that* is possible in our lifetimes.

Anyway, it’s a fun book. I’m not really sure if the story is any good yet, though. Mostly it’s a trip down memory lane.