Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Overcoming My Aversion to Sequels, Part Two: The Sequeling (Reviews of Mockingjay, Part Two, The Outskirter's Secret, Darwin's Children, The Naked God)

In Part One, I discussed my trouble with sequels.  Even if I love the first one, I often have trouble getting to the sequels.

Here in Part Two, I'm going to offer some reviews of some sequels that represent my exploration of what sequels might do for me.  Have I been missing out?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part Two

Everybody's favorite (or second favorite after Battle Royale) child murder games are back! This is technically a sequel of a sequel, so it seems like a good place to start.

First off, I have to admit that I haven't read the books.  I would never criticize other adults who enjoy YA fiction, but YA books always bring me back to the uncomfortable space of teenagerness - a space I'd personally rather not inhabit.  Nonetheless, I have enjoyed The Hunger Games movies, and it's always nice to see science fiction go mainstream, especially with an interesting female protagonist.

Even if you haven't seen the movies or read the books, you probably have the basic idea: dystopian totalitarian regime makes kids murder each other in a kind of Running Man: Kids' Edition, intrepid heroine survives to challenge the system.  My favorite example of the extent to which The Hunger Games has permeated pop culture is Stephen Colbert's Hungry for Power Games, a series about US Presidential candidates dropping out of the race.

Mockingjay, the third book in the trilogy, has been split into two movies (whether this is for reasons of content or economic gain, I don't know).  MILD SPOILER ALERT: Katniss and friends are busy with their revolution against the insidious President Snow of the Capital. Katniss is hell bent on killing Snow, especially given the abuse he put poor Peeta through (poor Peeta...).
Seriously, these are scary.

There's a lot of sitting around talking in the dark in this movie, and these lulls in the action do sometimes remind you that the movie is over two hours long.  In a move equal parts cheesy and brilliant, there's a non-Hunger Games Hunger Games when the rebels enter the Capital, which includes deadly traps and these super crazy eyeless Lovecraftian sewer dwellers (see above).  Then... well, I don't want to spoil everything, so let's leave it there.

It's always been obvious to me that, although we're supposed to identify with Katniss and the Districts, the point of The Hunger Games that many people miss is this: we are the Capital.  That is, we, the wealthy countries of the world, are obsessed with reality shows and smartphone apps while one billion of our fellow human beings live on less than a dollar a day.  In a world where over 20,000 people die of hunger related illnesses every day, the Hunger Games is depressingly real.  Mockingjay, Part Two is a fitting end to the series because it reminds us that these movies are supposed to be disturbing and depressing.  How could a series predicated on children murdering each other be anything else?

The Outskirter's Secret by Rosemary Kirstein

This is the direct sequel to The Steerswoman, which I loved (see my review).  Kirstein's brilliance in The Streerswoman is that she wrote science fiction in the guise of fantasy, all with cool characters and the fascinating order of the Steerswomen.

The sequel still has the cool idea of science fiction masquerading as fantasy.  The protagonists are still great characters.  The world building continues to be thorough while not giving away too much, and the Outskirters' cultures are really interesting.  There is (eventually) some movement in the plot that began in the first book, which makes me want to overcome my aversion to sequels once again to read the next book.

What I really didn't care for is that too much of the world building happens through meandering nomadic wandering while the plot hardly moves at all.  Sure, the Outskirters are cool, but I would have gotten that idea with a book half as long.  Sometimes I can appreciate meandering world building in a book, but this was just too much.  I contemplated giving up several times.  I even put this aside to read a few other books, but I eventually finished it out of my love for the first book.

See my Goodreads review.

Darwin's Children by Greg Bear

Bear is one of my go to authors for hard science fiction.  The first book in this series, Darwin's Radio,  is hard SF with biology rather than the typical physics as the main science involved.  It deals with a virus that threatens humanity, but is actually the next step in our evolution.

The second book in the series is a nice combination of political thriller, biology, and sci-fi speculation that offers plenty of food for thought on what it is to be human.  Although the cast of minor characters was sometimes hard to track, if you liked the first novel, in which we learn about the genesis of the new humans (aka, "virus children", aaka, "Shevites"), you'll probably be interested to see what happens to them socially and biologically as they grow up.

Since our descendants may not be human in the way we are (although probably not in the near time frame of these books!), this gives plenty to think about.

See my Goodreads review.

The Naked God by Peter F. Hamilton

Hamilton is probably the current world leader in epic, giant tome space opera.  It's hard to encapsulate the idea of this behemoth 3,500 page series, but it involves a "reality dysfunction" in the 27th century, which threatens to undermine the very fabric of the universe.  But it also involves lots of other stuff.  Lots and lots and lots of other stuff...

At over 1,300 pages this is the most beastly of the three beastly tomes that make up The Night's Dawn Trilogy.  I had serious reservations about the first book (see my Goodreads review of The Reality Dysfunction), but there was enough cool stuff to keep me going until I learned to stop worrying and love the trilogy in the second book (see my Goodreads review of The Neutronium Alchemist).

The Naked God is even more mind-numbingly long than the first two.  There are about a dozen independent plot threads, some of which don't receive much time, most of which receive far too much.

Luckily, the good stuff outweighs all this.  Hamilton got me hooked in the first book and kept me interested enough to see it through, which is saying something for a person like me who would normally be apprehensive about a trilogy that sprawls to about 3,500 pages.  The "big picture" stuff is there in an even bigger way in this one.  We're talking Arthur C. Clarke-worthy big picture stuff.

So, all in all, the trilogy will take some endurance and patience to get through.  But if you can make it, you'll be rewarded with an epic that yields some delightful feats of imagination and plenty to think about, not to mention as much entertainment as three or four normal-sized trilogies.

See my Goodreads review for a more in depth review.

Learning to Love the Sequeling?

I'm never going to be one of those people that compulsively has to finish all the sequels.  Maybe it depends on whether I enjoy them.  Maybe it depends on whether I find the universe worth further habitation.  Whatever the case, I've come to learn that sequels aren't all bad even if they're not all good.  You know, like everything else.


  1. It was a decent movie but the books, in customary fashion, were much better.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I've heard that the Hunger Games books are in the first person, which would make it a very different story, I think.

  2. In The Hunger Games and its sequels, it's actually spelled The Capitol (even though that doesn't make grammatical sense, since it refers to the entire city that is the seat of power in Panem, not just one specific building within it where the government, run by President Snow, meets and decides things).

    And yes, we are absolutely The Capitol. Jessica Williams did a brilliant piece on The Daily Show a little while back about how Republicans wanted children to "earn" the food they need to live, and thus justified cutting funding for programs that ensure proper nutrition for infants, among other programs (such as SNAP), where she brought in elements of The Hunger Games (she dressed as Effie Trinket).

    1. Huh. Maybe they mean that the whole city is basically the same as the building where legislation happens?

      Thanks for reminding me of that bit from Jessica Williams. Here's the link in case you want to see it again:

      Thanks for the comment, Brandon!