Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review-Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Once again Collins has delivered a book that is engaging and very difficult to put down.

As the book opens, we find that Katniss and Peeta have returned to District 12 to the Victor’s Village, where their families can live in prosperity and peace. But all is not well. PTSD has clearly set in. Katniss’ friend Gale keeps a cool distance from her since the events of the Games, and Peeta will have nothing to do with her. Katniss survived the Games because everyone thought she and Peeta were too much in love to kill each other, but a visit from President Snow reveals that he saw it as nothing more than an act of defiance, and that many people feel the same way. Katniss has unwittingly caused the first rumbles of rebellion, and if she does not convince everyone of her love for Peeta, her family will suffer.

These books are so very readable. Katniss is an engaging, realistic protagonist. She isn’t perfect. She has a temper, she’s very clueless, particularly when it comes to love, and she’s occasionally selfish. But her voice is strong, and she herself is stronger than she realizes.

It also helps that Collins give us a diverse cast of supporting characters, as well as a good contrast to those who are more black-and-white in their morality. On one end of the spectrum you have President Snow, an amoral, bloodthirsty dictator through and through, and on the other end you have Peeta, selfless, giving, and kind. In between you have Katniss, rather selfish, temperamental, yet fiercely loyal to those she loves; Haymitch, the cynical drunk who nonetheless clearly cares for his two charges; and many vain, shallow, yet ultimately kind-hearted people they meet in the Capitol.

The story is very tightly written. It moves quickly, but each moment counts, each moment builds up toward the conclusion.

I give it a 4 out of 5.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Takers: A Short Story; Or, Erica attempts creepypasta

     To this day, I cannot explain the incident that occurred one hot evening in the summer of ’99. I fear, or perhaps hope, it will forever remain a mystery. Truly, ignorance is bliss.
     My family lived in Virginia, in the Appalachians. While not “hillbillies” in the traditional sense, the area was rather cut off from any city, surrounded as it was by ridges. Our house sat near a back road, with a large stand of trees on the opposite side. We had the usual problems of country living-opossums, coyotes, and the occasional bear. Yet these were known factors, and easily dealt with if one had a shotgun and good aim.
     What happened that summer, however, can never be quantified.
     The noises began at 10:00 pm, just as it had grown very dark. My mother sat by the window, and straightened at the sound.
     “What is that?” she asked. I strained my ears.
     At first, I thought it sounded like a large group of hoot owls, and I said so. But as we listened, I became aware that there was something wrong with the noises. The “hoots” came too fast, were too high-pitched, to be owls. Curiously, I thought of monkeys.
     Mom and I stepped out onto the porch and peered across the road into the woods. We saw nothing moving, not even squirrels or birds. I was getting spooked. The noises were entirely unnatural, and I fled inside.
     After an hour, the noises died down, and the world was blessedly, mercifully silent.
     Yet that night, I struggled with sleep. I had become acutely aware of how little glass and wood could protect us, should someone or something choose to invade. As I tossed and turned, hating the darkness, I heard it.
     A soft clicking noise, as of something hard walking across the wooden porch, reached my ears. I lay absolutely still, holding my breath. The noises paused outside my room.
     I was petrified. Even if something burst in on me, I would be able to do nothing but lie there.
    From outside came a noise like a huff, then a soft rustle, as though something was pawing at the screen. After a moment, something snorted, and the clicking noises continued across the porch, then ceased.
     Then the wretched hooting began again, but grew quieter, fading into the forest.
     The next day, after a sleepless night, I discovered my cat had gone missing, as had the neighbor’s. One girl lost her bike; the dog-catcher, the tires from his van.
     One loss, however, struck me to the core.
     My friend, who lived just down the road, went to wake her little brother that morning, only to find him gone. The police scoured the area. All they found were odd prints in the mud outside the boy’s window, but they were too vague to give a hint as to who or what had stood there waiting.
     I hate sleeping on the ground floor and wherever I have lived, I have made sure to take an upper story. But at this apartment complex, all that was available was the garden level.
     Perhaps this is what brought the incident to mind. Or perhaps it was the news story about a possible group of escaped zoo monkeys living at the park, making racket every night. Or perhaps it’s that strange clicking I can hear on the sidewalk…

A/N: This is partly based on a true story. One night we did hear some pretty freaky sounds in the woods. But nothing walked across the porch. Okay, that's not true. There was another incident with a deer walking on our porch, but I decided to mix it up with this. As far as I know the government has not experimented with monkey-owl hybrids, but if anyone sees a green lady on a broom, run.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Slender: Needs a health warning for people with weak hearts

Slender: This is basically Marble Hornets in video game form. Even watching it played by a guy with a strange voice and constantly spazzing (I really don't get PewDiePie), I was still freaked out, and possibly had a heart attack or two as a result.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The first I heard of this book was in a conversation with a few coworkers. One was extremely concerned about her daughter reading "The Hunger Games". It was an extremely violent book in which kids are forced to kill each other for the entertainment of a dystopian government. It sounded like Battle Royale, and I put it out of my mind.

One movie later, and everyone is talking about it. And the more I hear about, the more I realize I may have gotten a too-biased view from an overly-concerned parent. (The daughter in question, by the way, is already in college.)

So, curiosity got the best of me, and after waiting months to get the book (the waiting list for the others are just as long), I got it, and read it. And I'm glad I did.

The setting is dystopian North America, where several wars have been fought for power. The land has been fractured into twelve districts under the total control of the Capitol, the thirteenth district having been utterly destroyed in the last rebellion. Also, due to the rebellion, the Capitol has instituted the Hunger Games. Two children from each district are sent to fight each other to the death in an arena. The winner gets a lifetime supply of food and luxuries for their family and district. This reminds the people of how much control the government has over them, and supposedly keeps them docile. (The Capitol isn't very genre savvy.)

The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, lives in the coal mining District 12, poaching in the forest to keep her mother and sister fed. Then, to everyone's surprise, her little sister Prim is chosen as "Tribute" for the Hunger Games. To save her sister, Katniss volunteers to go in her stead. She and the other "Tribute", Peeta, face overwhelming odds, as many other districts train their children in anticipation for the Hunger Games. They must use their wits to survive.

First, I'm going to address the elephant in the room: the violence. And, honestly? It's not as bad as people say. Collins uses enough detail that you can get the picture, without going overboard. In fact, compared to some of Tolkien's death scenes, these are pretty tame. Obviously one still wouldn't let an 8 or 9 year old read it, but (going back to my coworker) someone being concerned about a 20-year-old reading it is just a little silly.

One thing that no one seems to have mentioned, however, is the subtle theme throughout. Not only of rebellion, but of a respect for life. Even in the middle of fighting for her life, Katniss fights for something else-keeping her humanity. She takes no pleasure in what is happening, unlike some of her opponents. The only two times she directly kills, the first is for the sake of another person, the second is out of mercy. She even puts flowers on one of the other "Tributes" to shame the government who has turned them into entertainment. Despite her attempts at a gruff exterior, she is a remarkably caring person inside, and, as part of her rebellious nature, she refuses to let the Capitol take that from her.

This was well-written and fast-paced. Collins' characters jump off the page, even the minor ones, and Katniss makes for an engaging and sympathetic protagonist.

This book gets a 4 out of 5.