Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Whatever!: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy sees Katniss Everdeen’s emergence from the Games into a “real” world turned upside down.  The way she made it out of the games (and I won’t say what that way is for fear of spoiling the first book) left her  in direct opposition to the powerful Capitol and in great danger.  She now has to go on a sort of messed up Victory Tour, facing down the districts and families that lost children in the progress towards her victory.  Meanwhile, she is still on unsteady ground, completely unsure of who to trust.  It’s a terrifying environment, and Katniss has to continue applying every piece of her cunning and ability to keep her head above water.

Katniss’ Games were the 74th iteration thereof, and every 25th anniversary of the Capitol’s victory over the Districts brings a Quarter Quell, where the method of choosing combatants is altered in some way.  The Capitol announces that the twist this year is for previous competitors to be sent back to the Games.  Though these twists are supposedly pre-determined, Katniss and her small circle of confidants immediately suspect a fix put in to bring Katniss back to the Games as a punishment, as she is the only surviving female champion from District 12.  She must go back to the Games, and she will have to change her tactics this time around.

The reality TV parallels keep on coming in this installment.  As we all know, reality TV shows are the most exciting in their first season, when players don’t know the ins and outs of the game and have to think on their feet.  After that first season, the shows are still interesting, but players have figured out how to game the system.  There’s yet another change in game play when shows introduce All Star seasons, where players not only know the game through observation but also know the game through previous play and have had a chance to observe other All Stars.  This is certainly the case for Katniss in her return to the arena – she is playing against people she’s seen play before and has an idea of how the man-made arenas are likely to behave.  This allows her to change her strategy and approach the game in a more efficient manner.  It would be easy for this return to the Games to get repetitive, and tempting to a lesser author to sit back and essentially put the drama of the Games on replay, but Collins does a masterful job at keeping things fresh and adding more wrinkles to make it a wholly new experience.

Catching Fire also picks up the thread of commentary on genetic engineering and weapons development that we saw in The Hunger Games.  The “muttations” (Collins’ word) seen in the first book are further explored here, and they are horrible for the most part – bees with instantly injurious venom that leads to eventual death and delirium, monkeys that attack with enhanced claws and massive numbers, birds trained to mimic sounds for psychological warfare, etc. – but Collins seems reluctant to denounce them as exclusively evil.  We discover that the birds trained for psychological torment, jabberjays, have mated  with regular mockingbirds to produce mockingjays, which replicate songs, without malice or aggression, and these birds are icons of good in the series.  It’s a surprisingly nuanced take on genetic engineering, leaving room for both good and bad.

I spoke in my previous review about the addictive qualities of these books, so I’m sure if you’ve made it to Catching Fire via The Hunger Games, you don’t need me to convince you to pick this up, nor to grab Mockingjay before you finish Catching Fire so you don’t get the d-ts as you go to find a copy.  I loved this one, and though Mockingjay is my favorite (more politics = happy Josie), I cannot recommend any of these books enough.  If I had an actual, physical stamp of approval, I would be abusing the shit out of it right now.

Crossposted at The Outpost

No comments:

Post a Comment