Dystopian SF meets extreme Survivor in The Hunger Games, and its sequel, Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins. In the far-future, the United States no longer exists. Instead, a nation called Panem has risen from the remnants, in which twelve districts are ruled by the oppressive Capitol. As punishment for their rebellion 75 years ago, the districts are forced to send teenaged tributes–one male, one female–to the Capital every year to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised fight-to-the-death, in which there can be only one victor.
Katniss of District 12 has supplemented her family’s income after her father’s death in a mining accident by (illegally) hunting and trapping in the woods surrounding her district. When her 13-year-old sister Prim’s name is drawn during the selection of the tributes, Kat volunteers to take her place. Kat and her fellow tribute, Peeta (the boy who has had a crush on her forever), are taken to the Capital where they are dined and styled and interviewed before being thrust into the arena.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but Kat does reappear in the second book, a survivor of the Games. She has hardly put the Games behind her before she goes on a victory tour to districts simmering with rebellion against the Capitol. As she becomes a symbol of revolution, the Capitol’s malignant leader, President Snow, has her and her family in his cross hairs.
Much is to be made of books that I found hard to put down, even though they include a plot device that is a personal non-favorite–the love triangle. Even worse, we don’t know (after 2 books) how this will be resolved (I like to know which guy will get the girl so I can root for the right one :D). But I’m so caught up in the story I don’t care. The world is changing, revolution is brewing, her survival is at stake–of course Kat isn’t sitting around plucking petals of daisies going, “I love him, I love him not”.
What does bother me is how evil is embodied in President Snow and his oppressive Peacekeeper goons. We are not told whether Snow is an elected limited-term president or a dictator for life, but the role of ultimate villain falls to him, even though the Hunger Games and the oppression of the districts started seventy five years ago. They seem to me to be an institutionalized evil, not merely a personal one. The Capitol dwellers are portrayed as hopelessly flighty, shallow, and twittery; charming children who aren’t—but should be—held to account for their role in watching, encouraging and indulging in the Hunger Games.
I should also very much like to know how this system was set up in the first place (and why someone thought taking tributes every year to fight to the death was such a good idea, seeing that it might inflame the populace of the subject districts). I hope the final book will provide answers.
But these books surprised me, given how much I don’t love dystopian SF. The last book, Mockingjay, comes out in the fall. Yet another book to look forward to!