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By Cristina Hartmann, Lawyer by day, writer by night
All of the answers so far are spot-on about the attributes of the Hunger Games series. The books are fast-paced, personable and poignant. Still, there's a deeper attraction within this series.
A head-to-head comparison with other dystopian death-match novels may give us some insight into what makes Hunger Games special. The two top contenders that I've read are: Battle Royale and Running Man -- two very different books.
Battle Royale (Koushuri Takami) - classic deathmatch novel
This book, set in a despotic East Asian government, pits classmates against each other on an island. The idea is very similar to the Hunger Games; it's kill or be killed.
The book had a few problems:
- Lack of Consistent Narration - since this book is in the third-person perspective, the author retells the lifestory of every student. This narration style fustrates a reader because most of the characters end up dead after reading several pages of his or her life story.
- Stereotypes Galore - this book, despite its efforts to delve deeper, falls back on stereotypes when describing different classmates. There are the typical overachieving nerds, losers, gangsters and promiscuous girls. Unfortunately, this aspect of Battle Royale made the characters' actions a bit ridiculous.
- Unbelievable Characters - unlike the Hunger Games, many of the classmates in Battle Royale turned out to be crack shots. Somehow, I doubt a girl who never held a gun before suddenly developed precision targeting skills. Shooting guns isn't as easy as it seems on television. The tributes in Hunger Games were far more believable. Some of them were inept and got killed early. Others demonstrated more ruthlessness.
- Lack of Closure - disappointing ending. Quibbles about Mockingjay aside, at least the Hunger Games provided some closure.
The book still had a few attributes.
- Exploration of Human Kindness - Battle Royale addressed the very important fact that most of us would actually prefer not to fight in such a horrific deathmatch. Compassion and empathy are rare occurences in the Hunger Games arena, except for Rue and Katniss. Unlike Battle Royale, the people in the Hunger Games universe are more jaded, more cynical.
Battle Royale does some things better than the Hunger Games, but the latter is far superior in its entirety. The Hunger Games deals with additional complex themes other than the deathmatch issue. There are the reality television and subversion angles, for starters.
Running Man (Stephen King)- deadly reality television game
The novel, originally written under King's Robert Buchanan pen name, follows the protagonist as he competes in a violent reality television show where he must survive for two weeks with hordes of armed assassins after him. It's not quite reality television as we know it, as there are no cameras following the protagonist, but he had to send in videos to remain in the game.
A few issues that I had with the book are:
- Lack of Character Development - the protagonist is a hardened misantrope, but we don't quite know why. He is flatter than cardboard.
- Unsatisfying Ending - I won't ruin it for you, but the ending left me hollow and unsatisfied.
- Wasted Opportunity- King could have done so much more with the reality television angle. Instead, the book focused on the class tensions between the haves-and-have-nots. As Hunger Games shows, reality television provides a fasnicating peek into the human psyche. The constant survelliance changes people -- not just behaviors, but people's character. King ignored this part, but perhaps he was too early to see the deeper impact of reality television.
King does a few things well in this book, such as:
- Mob Mentality - in the Running Man, the entire country gets involved in the game. Anyone who sees the protagonist and reports him becomes an instant celebrity themselves. The Hunger Games alludes to the mob-mentality, but it's much more ruthless in the Running Man.
Both Battle Royale and Running Man are worthy contenders for the top reality deathmatch novel award, but neither of them have the depth and poignancy of the Hunger Games. In fact,both books feel somewhat removed from the real horror. Since the Hunger Games is a trilogy, it deals with more themes and deeper character exploration.
In the Hunger Games, we burrow deeply into Katniss' character -- we see how she reacts to and thinks about certain situations. Not to say that the first-person narrative takes away from the other characters. We also glean insights into Haymitch's, Peeta's, Gale's and others' behavior from Katniss' thoughts and observations. Not only is the character development superior, the Hunger Games deals with more themes in a nuanced way. As you read, you think about the nature of revolutions, subversion, resistance, reality television and self-defense. The Hunger Games isn't a perfect book series, but it's one of the best in the reality-deathmatch genre.
The Hunger Games succeeds where others (such as Battle Royale and Running Man) fail because it explores more themes and has superior character development.
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