I have never been a sci-fi fan. Don’t know why, really. I think it has something to do with the priorities of the writer. It might be that the author’s focus tends to be more on her sociological premise than on her characterization?? Not sure. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I can’t cope with the situations posed in the stories. I mean, I often feel that I’m living in a science fiction novel now. My grip on reality is that tenuous.
Anyhow, at the insistence of my younger daughter, I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. And I have to say, as far as sci-fi goes, it’s a winner. I’m hoping that the film version produced by Lions Gate Films does the novel credit.
The story is set in a society that is stratified into twelve districts. District one is the ruling district, in which citizens enjoy comforts that are unimaginable to the lower class districts. In district twelve, the citizens run the coal mines for a pittance of a salary – not enough to safely live on. And yet, it is a crime for them to leave the borders of their district to gather food. They stay alive through a vibrant underground economy, but they are always, always under the strict, punitive command of their totalitarian government.
Every year the government amuses its citizens by televising a live last-person-standing fight to the death. The contestants are selected (“reaped”) by lottery and then given celebrity status in some pre-game events. The poor are more vulnerable, because in order to survive, they sometimes must buy staple goods in exchange for tesserae (lottery credits increasing the odds of being “reaped”) – an interesting allegory for the American draft board. In this pre-game spectacle the author examines how governments use media to frame propaganda. And of course, the first person narrative of the games themselves through the eyes of a contestant, makes for a compelling morality play.
The popularity of this novel gives me great hope. If there’s anything that will encourage young people to examine their morality and the dangers of totalitarian government, it’s compelling literature. And this novel has depth without being too difficult a read. An eleven-year-0ld can enjoy it as well as an adult. My daughter and wife so liked the novel that they bought tickets to attend the opening day screening of the film. And they thoughtfully included me. Without this invitation, it’s unlikely that I would have read the novel, and you, my dear reader, would not be mulling over this brilliant analysis!