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review 2020-05-19 17:21
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Hunger Games Prequel by Suzanne Collins
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes - Suzanne Collins

Suzanne Collins returns to the world of 'The Hunger Games' to tell the story of young Coriolanus Snow. For those who don't remember, that's Donald Sutherland. The original trilogy captivated me when I first read it, but I had my doubts about a prequel after all these years. This is partly because these books don't continue to resonate with me the way some other YA powerhouses have. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, however, so expect this one to be on the bestseller list for some time.


This was a fast read, even at 500+ pages, and there was some pleasure in seeing the world that had only been viewed through Katniss' limited gaze with greater clarity. The problem I ultimately had with this is the problem that hits a lot of prequels: this story had a foregone conclusion. The story has to have an interesting journey on top of the plot. Was the goal to humanize Snow? To reinforce the message of the original trilogy? To provide an alternative to the increasingly lampooned Katniss model of YA heroine in Lucy Gray? Having finished this...I still can't give you those answers.


I'm rating this as only OK because we didn't see any transformation of Snow. Cunning sociopathic person wins the day may be realistic, but it wasn't riveting as presented here. Lucy Gray is only a cypher because we never hear her perspective, and what we do see is from Snow's eyes, so.... Most importantly, I didn't buy the moral complications presented to the reader. Right and wrong were pretty clear and there was little or no real internal struggle on the part of the characters. That was a defining highlight of the original books. 'Ballad' succeeds only in being a return to a familiar world and by filling in gaps in the timeline of the series. If you liked the original trilogy, you'll find something in this book. Just don't expect the moon.


On the plus side, many bookstores got Mockingjay/Snake iron-on patches so if you pre-ordered a copy with them you get one for free. Check with your local - they may have extra patches that are first come/first served if you didn't preorder!


The Hunger Games


Previous: 'Mockingjay'

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review 2020-03-27 20:23
Alice Grove by Jeph Jacques
Alice Grove - Jeph Jacques

A side project from the creator of 'Questionable Content', 'Alice Grove' is a complete science fiction story set in the future thousands of years after a technological "blink" leaves the Earth without A.i. or any other advanced technology. Alice is a person with a certain skill set and her capabilities are revealed to the reader slowly after two young members of a human space colony are stranded on Earth and become her problem.


This was great and can be read in a single sitting. I'd invest in a physical copy if one were available, but instead I'll indulge in some of the physical volumes of his other comic he has available.

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review 2020-02-19 21:07
Parable of the Talents, Earthseed #2 by Octavia E. Butler
Parable of the Talents - Octavia E. Butler

'Parable of the Talents' is a very different book than 'Sower', but I felt it was just a good. The first novel was made up of selected early journals of Lauren Olamina, who "discovered" Earthseed and led her group of survivors to safe land owned by her lover Bankole after her home and family were destroyed.


Joining Olamina's voice is commentary from her daughter some years after Olamina's death. There are shorter fragments from the journals of Bankole and passages from Olamina's brother's book 'Warrior' as well.


I loved the tension that the voices of Olamina and her daughter added to the narrative. Olamina's journals pick up ten years or so after the end of 'Sower' with Acorn almost thriving. Over a hundred people form a part of the settlement and they've established good relationships with their neighbors and have started to sell excess goods they produce. Olamina's daughter, named Larkin by her mother, expresses bitter resentment towards her mother and references a tragedy. 


America is still struggling, but the worst of the chaos appears to be over. Unfortunately a reactionary government is rising to power in what's left of the United States. A preacher is running for President, deplores the loss of American character and values in the recent chaos years and promises to "make America great again". 


The issues I had with Lauren Olamina's flat voice persisted, but in many other ways this novel is superior to 'Sower'. The book is about tragedy and grave injustice. I couldn't stop reading it until I knew what happened.




Previous: 'Parable of the Sower'

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review 2020-02-18 20:33
Parable of the Sower, Earthseed #1 by Octavia Butler
Parable of the Sower - Octavia E. Butler

Written in 1993 and set in 2024, Butler's vision of a future America in decline at the mercy of climate change, corporate greed, government corruption and unchecked poverty, still seems very possible. I especially liked the restraint with which this was written and Butler's emphasis on race, gender and economics.


Lauren Olamina grows up in her community, a cluster of 11 houses protected, like many others, by a wall that keeps out predators and the growing number of desperate poor. Robledo, a former bedroom community of L.A., is much changed. America still exists, and there is a modern world out there, but it is harder to reach and dangerous for those without money. The adults bemoan the changes to the world and wish for the good days to come back, but for Lauren and her peers a life restricted to their cul-de-sac is normal. 


Additionally, Lauren has a weakness that is kept hidden outside her immediate family. Her deceased mother had been an addict of a smart drug that permanently altered body chemistry. Lauren inherited hyper-empathy - she feels the pain and pleasure of others when she witnesses it. In their world on the brink of chaos this is a dangerous trait to have.


Though their life is normal and privileged compared to many, Lauren can't help but notice the decay around her. Pressures outside are harder, more and more within their close-knit community can't find work and the prospects of her generation are bleak indeed. Lauren becomes obsessed with change at a young age and tries to prepare for the inevitable collapse and "discovering" the new religion of Earthseed.


Half of the novel is spent in Robledo, the other half follows Lauren and some companions on the road to a better life up North. The novel is bleak and the reader is shielded from it in part by Lauren's often flat narration. This may be a byproduct of her conditioning to show no emotion, but it works in a way. The novel gets a bit preachy, and Lauren is totally a cult leader, but her philosophy of accepting and preparing for change works a hell of a lot better than traditional thinking. 



This was good, the open ending paves the way for the sequel, but a sequel isn't strictly necessary.




Next: 'Parable of the Talents'

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review 2019-08-29 20:13
How Long 'Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
How Long 'Til Black Future Month? - N.K. Jemisin

This was a stunning collection of short fiction. I've never read Jemisin before, so I was astonished at the ideas and the characters here. My usual complaint with story collections is how they can be inconsistent and if one story is bad enough it can take down the whole collection.


There is nothing like that here. There are two or three that felt flat to me or felt like an under-developed idea, Jemisin in her introduction explains that she has used many of these stories as areas to test idea for longer fiction, but they never affected the many, many great stories here.


I really should go into these individually, but I'm lazy and I won't. I'll just say I was engaged by every story and easily, happily, went straight into the one following.


This is the best story collection I've read since 'Lot' and before that, I have to go to Ted Chiang. Those are smaller collections, however. The best comparison I can make as far as amount of stories and consistency is Flannery O'Connor.


I'll make a point to seek out her novels.



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