I have three questions that have little or nothing to do with this blog, and which may offend some as they are highly opinionated, and quite critical of a popular series of juvenile novels.
Let me say first that I write fiction off and on in my spare time, and have had little success in finding publishers. Let me also say that, while being a would be writer may make me more critical of other writers of fiction than I would be otherwise, none of my criticism is inspired by envy. I am quite impressed with many authors and can enjoy them without feeling any jealousy, so please do not assume my criticisms are due to any sort of envy or jealousy. If I call a novel bad or unoriginal it is because I see it that way, not because I resent its success. Well, perhaps I do resent the success of really bad novels, but only because there is something inherently wrong about bad writing gaining praise, not because I wish the praise had been mine.
Now, on to the bizarrely popular Hunger Games novels. I admit to not being the target audience, but I have a few questions about these works, since they are enjoying such success.
First, wasn't this plot done before in the Japanese movie Battle Royale
? And is it not also remarkably similar to Stephen King's The Long Walk
? I know nothing is new under the sun, and I can appreciate particularly innovate takes on an old theme, or even just a well crafted variation without any particular innovation, but from what I gather, much of the praise of these novels is that they are somehow original, and the only originality I see is taking this tired theme into the young adult fiction category?
Second, why does every distopia create villains who remind me of 80's vintage caricatures of the Moral Majority? I suppose this is a little bit of a political rant, but haven't we learned that when it comes to truly impressive ways to oppress people, the left is the winner hands down? Pol Pot, the Kims and Stalin were hardly screaming reactionaries. Mussolini started as a Communist, and the Nazis weren't called "National Socialists" for nothing. (And for those who deny this, explain the very strong ties between the Berlin branch of the party and more mainstream socialists.) I actually deny that militarist dictators are "on the right" ("The Political Spectrum
"), but if you persist in this delusion, note that most "right wing" dictators simply oppress people, usually at gun point, these sort of grandiose schemes, the "bread and circus" type oppression surely seems much more common from "benevolent leader" types on the left. So why does every such dystopia propose a pseudo-right wing leadership? And more, why does it all seem to sound so very much like the left's vision of Reagan era America? Were Huxley and Orwell the last writers who could criticize left wing dictators? Who realized claims of benevolence from the left could hide real evil?
To be fair, this second one does not apply to The Hunger Games specifically, as it is remarkably light on what the villains are, and, since it is mostly a xerox of Battle Royale, comes across as an anemic criticism of pop culture and reality television, though even there it sounds more like it is just parroting more cutting criticisms made by someone else. (Which it is.)
Finally, why do so many writer feel the need to create characters with names you never see int he real world? Oh, sometimes they explain them away. (The character of "Hell Tanner" in Damnation Alley is one of the most obvious such explanations of convenience, where a "cool" name is justified by an obviously hastily constructed explanation.) Worse, why do such writers then populate the entire world with such bizarre names? I can accept, with reluctance, a single Katniss or Peeta or Haymitch, but to have all three, and more, in the same group is beyond belief. What, the future will have no "Johns" or "Georges" or "Janes"? Sorry, but I don't see totalitarianism inspiring an explosion of absurd names. Even our judgment free society with its periodic explosions of new fictional names still has a huge majority of traditional, mostly Biblical names. I don't think the future will differ that much.
Then again, made up silly names seem to be a definite sign of writers obsessed with being "original". And fans apparently forgive anything. It is only curmudgeons like me who ask these troublesome questions.