Wednesday 19 March 2014

The Game of Thrones (any of them)/The Hidden City

I haven't read as much fantasy lately as I used to. But I've kept up enough to be baffled by this: Why are people are in such transports over George R.R. Martin, when Michelle West is giving us books like The Hidden City?

Now, I like Martin's work. I do. I've read, and enjoyed, the first four volumes of the Game of Thrones series. I even watched the first TV episode or two, but changes made in bringing the first book to the small screen turned me off. Which might even demonstrate feelings of protectiveness toward the books. But to hail Martin as "the American Tolkein" (as Time magazine has done) is going more than a few leagues too far.

If we are tossing that designation around (which I sincerely wish we wouldn't), I submit that West (who also writes as Michelle Sagara or as Michelle Sagara West) is every bit as deserving a candidate.* Once she inserts the double-R initials into her name, that is.

Full disclosure: I met Michelle West last fall, when I stopped by the fantasy bookstore where she works to sign copies of my recently released picture book, The Pocket Mommy. She was signing copies of her own books, so I asked her to recommend one. I was a wee bit uncooperative when she asked what kind of fantasy I like. (All kinds!) So she chose The Hidden City. I am glad she did.

But let's get back to the books. Both authors have great imaginations. Both are wonderful world-builders. Both tell absorbing stories that have depth, scope, and a rich invented history. But where Martin uses great blocks of primary colors, West creates a pysanka. If Martin's work is a fudgey brownie, West's is a dark chocolate raspberry truffle. Where his is a lively bergerette, hers is full-sonority Debussy. If he's the red sphere just being released from the tip of the glassblower's pipe, she is a stained glass window with the sun (or moonlight) streaming through.

Okay, let's call it a matter of taste. But if you like Martin's work, I can't imagine you won't also gobble up West's. I liked The Hidden City very much. I will read other books by Michelle West. You should too.

*Unless she would prefer being identified as the Canadian Tolkein. A few other writers have already been described as such, but they are all men. Sigh. Do I need to write a whole new post?

Tuesday 6 March 2012

The Hunger Games/Rite of Passage

So a few months ago, I had a conversation with a young friend whose imagination had been entirely captivated by The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I had heard of it, but had not yet talked to someone of the age for whom it was written. This young lady was dying to tell me of the plot twists, but she is a real reader. She restrained herself from giving too much away, and told me just enough to arouse my curiosity. (Well done, Jessye!)
            When she described the premise, it immediately brought to mind Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage. I also thought of Monica Hughes’s Invitation to the Game (which I will come back to in a future post.)
            Unexpectedly, once I began reading The Hunger Games, I found that certain passages reminded me of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the wonderful book, not the wonderful movie). But I was also correct in anticipating that it would remind me of Panshin’s book. The parallels between his 1968 s.f. classic (fifth Nebula Award winner ever!)  and The Hunger Games are striking.
            Here is the thumbnail description of Rite of Passage from “The Abyss of Wonder,” Panshin’s website:

 “A girl who lives on an immense interstellar ship must manage to survive Trial for a month in the wilds of a colony planet.”

        Doesn’t that sound reminiscent of The Hunger Games?
          Small caveat. I haven’t read Rite of Passage for many years, so it’s possible that it will seem dated to a modern reader. But I’ll bet it’s still a thoroughly absorbing read.
            Like The Hunger Games, Rite of Passage is a coming-of-age novel. Both books place their young heroines in jeopardy, and step back to test their self-reliance and will to survive.
            Granted, the stakes don’t start out anywhere near as high for Mia as they do for Katniss. But ultimately they ramp up to just as dire a pitch. (If stakes can pitch?) Mia’s peril may even come through as more extreme, because she and the reader discover Tintera together, while Collins and Katniss roll out a slow reveal of circumstances they are familiar enough with to take for granted.
            In the end—and perhaps counter-intuitively, given the premise of The Hunger Games and the trend toward increasingly graphic storytelling for young adults—Panshin grapples with bigger questions in Rite of Passage than Collins does in The Hunger Games. Although things are very wrong in Katniss’s world, her dilemmas by the end of the first book seem primarily personal. I’m guessing this will change over the course of subsequent books—and I’ll definitely keep reading to find out.
            Happily, I can read more Panshin, too! In looking for links to share, I learned that Panshin revisited the setting of Rite of Passage in subsequent stories ( As I sweat along with Katniss in the trials ahead, I will also look forward to returning to the world I first saw through Mia Havero’s eyes. What a treat!

More info:
Read Jo Walton’s incisive post after you’ve read Rite of Passage. Unlike Jessye, she gives too much away. 

And here is Panshin’s own story about how he came to write the book:


I’m enjoying Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. A lot. Furthermore, I was correct in anticipating what it would remind me of—that is to say, which books of my acquaintance from years past.
            And here’s the thing. Worthy books reach an enormous audience these days—and rightly so. Sadly, many equally worthy books published pre-Internet will never receive the same attention. That goes double, I suspect, for works for children and young adults. And that’s a shame.
            Classics like Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland won’t be quickly forgotten. Nor (I sincerely hope) will Goodnight Moon or Where the Wild Things Are.* But what about the books that haven’t ingrained themselves as classics in the popular consciousness? Who will speak for them?
            I will.
            If when reading a popular present-day book, I am reminded of one I read in a time before it might have gotten a boost from the Internet, I will write about it. This being a blog, I of course invite you to help me by adding your suggestions. I’m thinking of an approach like: “If you liked The Hunger Games, you might be interested in Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage.” Because that’s where we’ll start.  

*And wouldn’t you know, the very day after I wrote these sentences in my first draft of this post, Parent & Child released its “100 Greatest Books for Kids” list. Charlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, and Where the Wild Things Are are numbers 1, 2 ,and 5. Prescience! But where are the other two?

Alice is arguably not a children’s book (let’s talk later on about what is and is not!). But then, A Wrinkle in Time placed as number 3—which I applaud—even though the factors that rule out Alice might equally apply.

But not to list Charlie & the Chocolate Family? Were these guys never kids?