I really wanted to love The Magicians, because I saw Lev Grossman speak at the Center for Fiction and I thought he was way cool. Plus it came highly recommended. Unfortunately my basic take on it was, Harry Potter as written by Jonathan Franzen.[Spoiler (click to open)]
The main character was everything that makes me avoid mainstream fiction like the plague: soaking in privilege yet never happy; self-preoccupied to the point of hardly seeing anyone else, yet lacking in self awareness; screwing up what few real relationships he has; largely passive and reactive, and not taking responsibility for the things he does do. The fact that he was surrounded by other, more appealing people whose stories I only got to see glimpses of just made it worse. Cannot decide if I am willing to try the sequel.
On the other hand, I adored Patricia Wrede’s The Thirteenth Child and highly recommend it.[Spoiler (click to open)]
As, among other things, a counterpoint to OSC’s Alvin Maker. The only thing that bugged me a little is that this is an alternative US frontier with no mention of Native Americans whatsoever. Of course, given the “alternative”, it’s entirely possible that in this world there never were any, but never finding a way to slip that detail in somewhere still feels a little too much like erasure to me.
I also read the Hunger Games books. I really liked them.[Spoiler (click to open)]
I did feel that Gale’s character was more told than shown, which made the resolution of the love triangle not much of a surprise. As a poly person, I was a little annoyed, though not surprised, to find that the idea of not having to choose occurred to no one. I was also bothered that there don’t seem to be any gay people in Panem. Katniss’ lack of much of any sexual feelings of her own did not ring very true to me – of course, I’ve not been in anything like that situation, so I can hardly say, but I think history suggests that neither hunger nor war prevent most teenagers from wanting sex, even if they don’t have it.
I found Katniss’ explanation of her prep team – the idea that people from the capital have no empathy or moral horror because they are so sheltered -- kind of unrealistic too. After all they must still suffer and die from other things. I know studies have shown that rich people have less empathy, but less is not none, and while the people in the capital are certainly rich compared to District 12 they are not the kind of super-rich that can control everything about their own existence and be surrounded by syncophants. Then again, that’s Katniss’ perspective, not necessarily the truth, and Cinna suggests things are more complicated.
I liked the last book slightly less than the other two – Katniss is more reactive and less active in it, and while it makes sense, it is less satisfying. And I found her comment about her being a child that no one cared about hurting did not ring true – she’s 17, and while that’s a child in the sense that she’s still eligible for the Hunger Games and not allowed to go down into the mines, it really doesn’t strike me that Katniss has seen herself as a child in a long time, nor has she functioned as one in the eyes of others. Nor do the people of District 13, who she is talking about, consider 17 year olds children in general, since they’ve already joined the army. It seemed like an interjection from planet 21st Century North America.But all of those are minor quibbles to an extremely compelling story. I particularly liked that Collins was not afraid to make Katniss make some unlikeable choices and have some selfish thoughts. She was still, to me, a very sympathetic character, but also a realistic one, not one where the deck is stacked so a she never has to make a hard call. And I loved the way the cameras, and her awareness of them, infiltrated her awareness and even made it hard to figure out what her own feelings would be if they weren’t there. It’s a very nuanced worldview that I think a lot of adults would not realize a teenager could maintain, as well as a very postmodern dilemma. I kind of want to write a paper on The Truman Show, The Hunger Games, and as many other Panopticon surveillance SF conceits as I can think of, and how they influence character and relationship development.