The Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny

When I read the first of the Amber Chronicles last year, I didn’t enjoy it all that much. It was all right, I suppose, and the notion of travelling through shadow to the one kingdom that is… what? Real? Genuine? Anyway, it’s the top level of whatever reality-hierarchy Zelazny cooked up for the story and it was a very cool concept. Also, there’s a hard edge to Zelazny’s prose in the book that really worked for me. There is just one problem.

Who the hell am I supposed to root for?

What we have is a bunch of spoiled children of a king. Some of them are trying to stay out of it, some of them are supporting a unified kingdom, but the rest are just idiots. They fight each other, including the POV character who I thought I was supposed to start liking, even when their own annihilation is staring them in the face.

I won’t pretend like they know it’s their doom. After all, they don’t know that they are in a fantasy series. But come on! Corwin, the main character has spent centuries on what we call Earth. At least, I have to suppose it’s the genuine Earth. He has to have read a book or two in his time there, right?

Maybe it’s a parable. Maybe Zelazny is trying to show us how foolish we are in our fruitless attempt to climb a mountain of status even as the world is crumbling around us. But it just feels like his centuries-old characters are acting like babies instead.

Now, I’m not saying, Corwin, that you shouldn’t consider getting revenge on the brother who burned your eyes out with a stick. I’m just saying that maybe opening Hell-in-a-can and unleashing it for petty power plays was a bad move and maybe you should concentrate on fixing that before you try and take over.

In all seriousness, the writing feels old and covered in nicotine stains, but for some reason, it works in this instance. I’ll definitely be reading the next in the series, but I hope I can find one of the princes or princesses of Amber to cheer for, because it’s starting to look like the “bad guy” is my favourite.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Who the hell am I writing this for? Everyone has already seen the movie, read the book, or both.

Maybe I’m writing it for the people who’ve only seen the movie. If that’s the case, I’m only going to say what I would say about any respectable book-to-movie conversion. The movie was pretty faithful to the book, so if you’re looking for new plot lines, you’re bound for disappointment. On the other hand, as is always the case, the book was better. There are depths unplumbed by the movie, again, as always, and the relationships are more fully-realized. Not to mention that the killing in the book is seen as horrible, even the killing of the antagonists — something that the movie doesn’t always get across.

Or maybe I’m writing this review for the next generations, those who are either too young as of this writing, or not born yet and thus unable to read the book or watch the movie. In that case, hello from the past! If you aren’t currently living out your own dystopian present, fighting off Morlocks for a slice of cheese, or trading flash drives for milk, then this book might be of interest to you. There’s action — horrific action — that will make you excited, then guilty at being excited, and maybe a little ill, until you realize that that was the point.

However, if you are living in that future where lives are cheap and food is not, maybe this story will be a fantastical escape that feels like vacation, in between bouts against the Mighty Vorgoff in the Thunderdome. Good luck with that — and take the axe, not the chainsaw. There’s no way you’ll get it running in time.