Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

TheMazeRunner

Title: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Publisher: Random House

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Upon finishing this book, two questions kept mulling around in my head: 1.) Why are so many YA titles, especially genre fiction, part of a series? 2.) Why does it seem like so few current authors truly know how to write a series of books?

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I start a book thinking I’m reading a stand alone and then realize part way in that it is part of a series. I’m not totally against series in general.  I read the entire Dark Tower series by Stephen King and enjoyed it immensely.  The Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry is one of my favorite ongoing series and I also highly enjoyed The Rot & Ruin series by the same author.  Growing up I also devoured every Babysitter Club & Fear Street book I could find.  What do these books have that The Maze Runner doesn’t? Simple, a beginning, middle and most importantly an end.  The structure of this novel annoyed the hell out of me.

I picked up this novel because I happened to see the preview for the upcoming movie while seeing Divergent with my sister for my birthday. If it hadn’t been so close to my yearly Birthday Book Buying Binge, I probably would have gotten this book from the library. The movie preview piqued my interest in reading the book. I really hope they structure of the movie is better than the novel, or audiences may walk out.

The plot of this story is simple. A boy named Thomas is mysteriously deposited among a group of young boys living in a meadow surrounded by an elaborate maze. They spend their days rebuilding their own society, complete with leadership and jobs, while looking for a way out of the maze. The boys, including Thomas, have no memories of their lives before The Glade and The Maze.  Problem one: This book spends the first 100 or more (out of a 374 page book) exploring The Glade (the central meadow and home base) and its inhabitants.  There is little to no action in the first third of the book.  Every time Thomas tries to ask a question about his surroundings, the boys are either extremely rude to him or they just have no information to give him. The whole “memory wipe” thing is a convenient device as we learn this may not be Thomas’ first encounter with the maze, but is frequently dropped when he has to recognize common every day objects, plants or animals. It’s a selective memory wipe. Problem two: Thomas asks a lot of questions that either never really get answered or just have answers that are kind of inexplicable.

About two-thirds through the book, Thomas meets Minho, a Runner in the maze. Keep in mind that this is the first time the reader encounters anyone who has even spent any real time in the maze and this book is called The Maze Runner. For whatever reason, Thomas feels a strong urge to be a Runner and manages to be rewarded by becoming one for rescuing Alby, the group leader and Minho when they get stuck out in the maze after dark.  After dark is when these things called Grievers, attack the maze.  The Grievers are part biological and part robotic  and a pretty weak villain for this story.  The walls of The Glade close every night so the Gladers are not even really threatened by The Grievers until much later when everything starts to go to hell.

That is when the book picks up, when everything starts to go bad.  The changes start when The Box, the device that delivers supplies the boys need, also supplies an ending to this maze experiment in the form of a young girl. Another selective memory wipe: The boys, some who have lived in The Glade for two years, have never had a girl live among them. So how do they know what she is? And how do they know that they’re supposed to assume she’s weaker than them because of her gender?  The girl and Thomas obviously have some sort of connection but it’s not quite clear what that connect is beyond that it gives them the ability to speak telepathically to one another. In my mind, this should make the boys think they are are in the presence of some sort of deity but they seem to recognize she is human.The girl’s appearance is very important for the End Game in the last 50 pages of the book but her presence in the Glade for most of book is pretty useless and she spends a lot of her time in a coma.

The last 50 pages is when the boys decide to take matters into their own hands and fight back against whomever put them in the maze. I thought it was really strange to have all the action pick up and present more questions as the book came barreling toward an end.  Turns out it isn’t so strange if you are aware that there are two more books that follow this one.  This book doesn’t quite end with a cliff hanger but it doesn’t answer all questions in a satisfactory manner either.   I leave this review with the questions I had at the end of this book: Was Chuck actually Thomas’ brother? Or were they just close friends? Are Teresa and Thomas headed toward a Luke & Leia type awkward relationship? Is WICKED really good? What is this experiment?  I would really like to know the answers to these questions but I don’t feel I can trust that continuing with the series would answer them. I am too frustrated with the first book and the effort it took to complete it to really care to go on.  If anyone has any answers for me, please leave them in the comments.

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Review: Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

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Title: Black Moon

Author: Kenneth Calhoun

Publisher: Random House

Genre: General Fiction; Science Fiction

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I had really high hopes for this novel.  I love apocalyptic fiction.  The idea of everyone starting to go crazy from a severe case of insomnia was both intriguing and frightening to me. Unfortunately, Black Moon just did not live up to the expectations I had for it.  My disappointment with this novel lays mostly with the end, so I’ll say some might consider this review to have spoilers, even though I have tried to discuss my issues with the end in general terms.

Black Moon follows the stories of four characters who have somehow survived the first wave of insomnia that is gripping the world and turning people into exhausted, crazy, sometimes violent hordes.  Biggs has lost his wife,Carolyn, one night and now must venture from the safety of their apartment in order to find her.  Chase and his friend, Jordan, loot the local drug store in the early stages of the epidemic and make off toward the mountains, hatching a plan to live off the drugs they can sell.  Felicia, Chase’s ex-girlfriend, is an intern at a sleep study clinic looking for a cure.  Lila is a high school student forced from her home when her insomniac parents start to turn on her.

Black Moon is a more literary take on the classic epidemic-apocalyptic novel, a favorite subgenre of mine.  I’ve read a lot of these types of novels. I used to read The Stand every summer and have read more zombie novels than I can count.  One thing these books all have in common is that when the epidemic turns apocalyptic everyone gets on the move.  That is true of Black Moon. Most of these books take these different story lines and converge them to have the characters work together towards an end that is satisfactory to the reader. This is where Black Moon disappointed me.  I got about 100 pages to the end and wondered out loud, “When are these characters going to get together and figure out where to go from here?” Calhoun just leaves everyone wandering into oblivion.

Most of the middle of this novel seems to focus on Chase, a college student who is desparate to get back with Felicia and motivated by wanting to get laid.  There’s really no other way to describe it.  Chase take erectile dysfunction pills in the middle of the novel and his story line becomes him dealing with an erection while succumbing slowly to insomnia.  It’s ridiculous and goes on far too long, to the point where I no longer cared what happened to Chase. All that space in the plot could have been used for Felicia and Lila who have much more interesting stories but feel very underutilized.  Biggs is the only character that was both interesting and well served, except at the end where the plot feels rushed in order to give him some sort of fate.

The best part of the novel is the language. It feels truly unique when we’re engrossed in a character’s interaction with one of the insomniacs. One chapter completely concerns itself with a couple named Jori and Adam.  I think they are related to Biggs but I can’t remember.  Jori and Adam are succumbing to insomnia while taking care of their newborn baby.  This chapter feels like its own separate short story.  The way Jori and Adam speak to one another is an awesome use of language to show two people slowly declining into madness. It’s the most disturbing chapter in the book.

I wish Calhoun had shortened all the erection stuff with Chase and focused a bit more on concluding his story.  While the way he uses language to show who is suffering from various stages of insomnia is interesting and not as gimmicky as it could have been, it just cannot sustain a story that seems to end with a whimper rather than a bang.

R.I.P. Richard Matheson

I’ve always been a big reader but I didn’t really become the horror fan I am until a little over a decade ago.  While the first author for me to really become a fan of in that genre is Stephen King, reading King quickly leads to other authors. One of those authors was Richard Matheson, who passed away Sunday at the age of 87.  I was very saddened to hear this news, even though Matheson seems to have led a very full life.  I think it’s alway sad when someone that writes the stories that keep you company throughout your life is suddenly silenced.  I felt the same way last year when Ray Bradbury, another author I discovered through Stephen King, passed away.  Even though I never had the opportunity to meet either of these gentlemen, their stories are still part of my life.  Below are just a couple of my favorite Richard Matheson novels :

I Am Legend– Most people my age are familiar with this story due to the Will Smith movie of the same name.  While not a terrible adaptation, it joins the other two films based on this story in, somehow, not getting the story quite right. I made my boyfriend also watch The Omega Man and Last Man on Earth last summer.  Neither of those films are great but Last Man on Earth comes closest to getting the end right. Do yourself a favor and read this novella about a man who is the last standing as humanity has been swallowed up and spit out as vampires.  If the ending doesn’t punch you in the gut, you may be a vampire.

What Dreams May Come– This novel, like many others that Matheson wrote, also was adapted for the big screen starring Robin Williams.  The movie does a decent job of portraying the story of a man trying to find and reconnect with his wife in the afterlife after a tragic accident tears apart their relationship.  Personally, I love the movie.  The book just goes deeper into Matheson’s thoughts on death and what comes after.  It is truly beautifully written and one of those books that, when I finished it, I had to sit quietly for a few minutes to let it digest.  I also spent years tracking down another copy after my old roommate poured juice all over another copy I had discovered at a used book store.

Stir of Echoes- I refer to this book as Desparate Housewives with more paranormal elements. Tom Wallace is an ordinary guy until he’s hypnotized at a party and starts being able to hear things he shouldn’t and learn the neighbors’ secrets.  I loved how these secrets got darker and darker.  This book is a really fast read as well, I think I finished it within a couple of days.

Hell House- This is Matheson’s haunted house story. The plot of the story, about a group of people going to investigate a haunted house, is very similar to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Shirley Jackson has been one of the few horror authors I’ve liked since high school so I had to read this to see how similar the two stories were.  I believe I also read this for a group discussion on Goodreads.  This book does amp up the sex and violence and is not shy about it. It is also one of the few haunted house stories I’ve read where it was hard to sleep after.  

These are just four of the many stories written by Matheson that you can get lost in.  I am happy, since I cannot say I have read all of Richard Matheson’s works, that I get to maintain that author/reader relationship with Matheson just a little bit longer. Rest in peace.