Interrogating the Text #5: The Hunger Games

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here.

In the second post in my in this occasional series (what was actually a three part post), I tackled a novel I had just finished.  Having recently finished Suzanne Collins‘ widely-acclaimed The Hunger Games, I thought now was a good time to similarly analyze this book – the recent release of the film notwithstanding.  (Note that Dear Wife and I have not seen it, yet, but intend to.  Getting a babysitter on short notice is not generally easy – especially when all your stand-by babysitters are themselves going out that same weekend to watch the same movie.)

Obviously, now, no links to the book – but if you haven’t read it you can probably obtain a copy from your local library, and a nearby bookstore is almost certain to have a copy.

I picked up The Hunger Games on the recommendation of Dear Wife, who picked it up on the recommendation of other friends.  She read it a couple years ago while I was still in Grad School and thus unable to read it myself at the time.  But with the movie coming out this year, I was determined to give it a read before seeing the film.  (And in fact I finished the book about a month ago… I just hadn’t had time to write this up, yet.)

I will say, right off, that I didn’t have the same conflicted relationship with this book that I had with the last novel that I analyzed in this blog (the aforelinked The Magicians).  Whereas I found the ending of that book problematic, I found the ending of this book mostly to be quite satisfying.  That said, I don’t come to this analysis without some criticism for The Hunger Games.  But criticism aside, it’s a good book and well-worth the read.  It doesn’t have the same lyrical narrative flare and style that some of the other works I’ve analyzed have.  But that’s of necessity, being in the first person perspective of the protagonist.  Obviously, though, the book has become a phenomenon for a reason, and that reason is valid.

By now you’re likely familiar with the book and its plot.  But here’s a short run-down anyway (and my usual warning: There will be spoilers): it’s the dystopian future, and what was once North America has given way to the oppressive regime of Panem, as ruled from the Capitol. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #4: Jay Lake takes a “Long Walk Home”

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here.

Today, I want to talk about a story I read recently by author Jay Lake called “A Long Walk Home“, which you can read for free at the website of Subterranean Press.  “A Long Walk Home” is the first science fictional story I’ll review and analyze for this series.  As with all the stories/novels I’ve discussed so far, I definitely enjoyed reading Jay Lake’s “A Long Walk Home”.  There were, however, some things about the story that disappointed me, which I shall get to in due course.  To follow along, you might want to go check the story out first, then hop on back here, as there will be spoilers in my analysis.

“A Long Walk Home” starts pretty strongly, as we’re introduced to protagonist Aeschylus Sforza, thereafter referred to as Ask.  The year is 2977 – the distant future – and Ask is an enhanced human.  These technological enhancements give him increased strength and durability, longevity (and presumably immortality, as we shall see), a perfect memory, and a direct neural connection to whatever information network exists in the future.  Except Ask is cut off from the network, deep underground exploring the strange and mysterious caverns on an alien planet called Redghost – a planet that has been colonized by humans and looks faintly like a far-future version of the American Frontier of yore. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #3: Michael Corradi Wields a “Ghiling Blade”

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here

Michael Corradi’s “The Ghiling Blade”, which appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a story that stayed with me and haunted me for some time after I finished reading it.  It was a powerful story taking place in a world that was rich with wonder and amazement.  Unfortunately, as it appeared in a print mag, I can’t link you to it (but if you can track down back issues of the magazine for a reasonable price, I’d recommend it just for this story), so after reviewing the story I’ll try to provide a little context about the story before getting to the writing lessons.

So, the review:  I absolutely enjoyed this story.  Oftentimes, though, when I enjoy a story I can still find some little thing that wasn’t quite right, that didn’t set well with me.  That is not the case with “The Ghiling Blade”.  I can honestly say that this story was a nearly perfect execution of style, ideas, theme, character, and plot.  It surprised and delighted me, and its world has already wormed its way under my skin.  It has been quite some time now since I read this story, and I still think back to it, and have already been comparing my ideas and my stories against the sheer wonder this story induced in me.  My only caveat to this uncompromisingly positive review relates to the main character’s name, which falls into the trap of the fantasy-cliche-pointless-apostrophe.  The only other word of caution: this is a dense story filled to the brim with things fantastical and amazing.  The world it portrays is very far from the mundanities of our own reality.  If you’re familiar and comfortable with fantasy fiction in general, or with the unusual and the bizarre, this will be a comfortable and exciting read.  But if you’re not, there’s a lot to take in and process in this story.

So, that dispenses with that.  But what was this story about?  Well, for starters, it was a fantasy.  There was magic.  There were epic battles between the massive armies of powerful nations.  There were bizarre and alien gods inhabiting otherworldly temples. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Lessons

At first I was a little embarrassed that I was going to write three entries to run a full analysis of lessons learned from Lev Grossman’s novel, The Magicians.  I was able to contain a short review, analysis, and lessons learned of the short story discussed in my first “Interrogating the Text” series in a single post.  And then I realized: waitaminit… a novel is a lot longer than a short story, and there’s a lot more depth to what’s going on in a novel.  It only makes sense that a complete textual analysis for a novel is going to be longer than for a short story.  Heck… I’m probably missing a lot even confining it to three overlong posts.

That said, to get the full benefit of this post, you’ll probably want to check out the prior two posts discussing my reading of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians: here and here.  The first is a relatively spoiler-free review that discusses my initial reactions to the book.  The second is a deeper and more thorough (and far more spoilery) analysis of why I had the reaction I had.  Now, I want to bring it all together to talk about the lessons I think I can take away from all of that.

The short version, then, is that I enjoyed reading the book.  The reason I enjoyed it was, mostly, for the high-quality prose, style and voice of the book, first of all, and for the clever twists and tweaks on common and sometimes-cherished, sometimes-maligned fantasy (and YA fantasy, especially) tropes. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Analysis

Last time I picked up the pieces of this “Interrogating the Text” series and gave you a general review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  But I wanted to talk a little about the writing lessons I learned from this book: what I liked, what I disliked, why I liked or disliked it, and what I can learn from that to apply to my own writing.

The remainder of this discussion won’t make much sense if you haven’t read The Magicians, I’m afraid.  And if you haven’t read it, and think you might like to, this post will contain spoilers for the ending of the book.  If you’re not sure if you’d like to, may I suggest you take a gander at my review in last week’s post, or this review here.  And one last warning: I’m going really in depth here, so this post is rather quite a bit long.  So settle in for an epic journey, if novel-writing-lessons are your cup of tea.

First, I want to make it clear, in case it wasn’t in my earlier post: I really enjoyed reading this book.  It was compelling and interesting.  For much of the book, it was a page-turner.  But I wasn’t satisfied by it’s ending.  Something felt off about it.

So let’s dig into that.

What did I like about The Magicians?  I liked the book’s style: while not as lyrical or poetic, for instance, as the works of Cathrynne Valente, it was nonetheless composed with a very compelling and interesting style.  It’s intelligent, and it makes no excuses for its intelligence.  It comes with a clear literary pedigree, but instead of eschewing the conventions of genre or speculative fiction and especially of YA fantasy (despite being decidedly not a YA book). 

I especially liked the manner with which the book played with genre conventions, and the clever use of a book (series)-within-a-book.  The Magicians plays up the tropes of the normal-person-enters-magical-world (i.e. “portal fantasy”) at every turn, and cleverly lampshades these conventions several times.  (For example, the Harry Potter books are mentioned by name in the course of the narrative, as is Tolkien’s Middle Earth.)  And there’s a lot of cool meta-fictional layers to the whole idea of Fillory in the book.  For example: Christopher Plover, the fictional author of the Fillory books, has a webpage.  There are even web pages for “fans” of the Fillory series.

But there were some difficult things about The Magicians as well, and they relate primarily to the characters and to the ending.

The characters are somewhat problematic in The Magicians because most of them, with the exception of Alice, are to a greater or lesser degree unlikable. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Review

Some time ago – back in August, now – I started a new, very occasional series of posts focused on critically reading and reviewing published works of fiction that I call “Interrogating the Text”.  The series, so far, has had a grand total of one entry (on the subject of Catherynne Valente’s “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While”).  Today marks the second entry in that occasional series.

I recently finished reading Lev Grossman‘s send-up to the fantasy genre: The Magicians.  It was an interesting read – I enjoyed it but, as I say, with caveats – and at about the two-thirds mark I resolved to blog about my reactions to the book: what I liked and what I disliked and why.

I’m going to start this off with a relatively spoiler-free review of the book, in a general sense, before I load up with an extra helping of spoilers and do the in-depth analysis that someday if this series ever gets more than two entries will be thought the hallmark of the “Interrogating the Text” series.  I’ll be breaking this down, then, into two posts.  One for the review, and one for the spoilery analysis.

So… Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  I liked it, but with caveats.  I keep saying that.  What does that mean?  It means that I found the writing and story to be engaging and interesting.  It was very well-written, stylistically.  The prose was at times poetic, clean, and evocative.  I kept reading because I found I had to know what happened next.  And yet, at the end of the story, I wasn’t satisfied. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #1: Cat Valente & Fairyland

I read a short story recently, and I wanted to share it.  I figured: what the heck, I’m a writer writing about writing on my blog, and especially about Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and the Greater Speculative Fiction Metropolitan Area.  So I can just post a link to a short story that I think deserving of attention!  Besides, it’s my blog, so nyeh!

But then I thought about it a little more.  I don’t often give writing advice, per se, on my blog because I don’t know that I’m really qualified to do that.  I do talk about how I do what I do – how I write.  But, if there’s a story I decide I particularly like, might it not benefit me to dig a little deeper into it to try to understand why?  And, if so, might that deeper exploration be of similar value to my readers?

Hey, why not?  Long ago, when I was in a middle school art class, I had a teacher who encouraged us to learn art technique by trying to copy the works of more famous authors.  (I attempted a rendition of Winslow Homer‘s “The Fox Hunt“, committing a terrible replica of which I am oddly still a little proud.)  As it turns out, studying the techniques of more advanced, more skillful, and more worthy artists is an excellent way to improve your own technique.  (I’ll never be a famous painter – probably because I’ve put more effort into learning the craft of writing than of painting, because as much as I enjoy painting I enjoy writing more – but I’m a passably fair artist with a pencil or a brush.)  So today begins a new, occasional and periodic feature here at “The Undiscovered Author” that I call “Interrogating the Text” in which I do a little analysis on a story that I’ve read – and let’s see if together we can’t learn a thing or two about the craft of writing.  Most – possibly all – of my example stories will be Speculative in some nature, and I’ll try  to reference stories that I can link to so you guys at home can follow along.

To kick this off, I thought I’d point you all to a delightful little story called “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While” by Catherynne M. Valente.  It’s available to read for free on Tor.com.  “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland” is described by Valente as a prequel to her recently published novel “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making“, and as a bridge to that novel’s sequel.  I have not read the novel – it was on my list, but after reading this story it may have to be bumped up the list by a few slots.  This story is really quite remarkable in ways that are difficult to understand right away. Continue reading