Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

For Christmas I got not one but THREE books from my awesome friend Olivia. They were a trilogy by James Dashner, The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials and Death Cure and came with the tag line “A must for fans of The Hunger Games”. One of my favourite things about Christmas (after the chocolate and the wine) is making a start on the Christmas book haul, curling up next to the fire and getting lost in new stories. I’d seen The Maze Runner around, actually, but just didn’t get around to buying it. Too many books, never enough time to read them all! Anyway, I was delighted to get a chance to sink my teeth into some good ole fashioned dystopian sci fi madness.

The Maze Runner is about Thomas, a boy who wakes to find he has no memories and no idea who or where he mazeis. It turns out he’s in the Glade, a piece of land in the centre of a maze with around 50 other teenage boys. Some of the boys have been there for as long as two years, some turned up like Thomas only a few months ago. None of the boys have any memories of anything outside the Glade, their lives before or why they’re there. All they know is that doors to the maze open every day in the morning and close every evening and that regular supplies are sent them. They know not to get stuck in the maze at night, as terrible creatures which are half biological, half machine patrol the corridors, and the walls move, altering the maze corridors. The boys have spent two years trying to solve the puzzle of the maze and find a way out, a way home, by sending runners to plot the maze every day but have so far discovered no clues as to how they can escape.

This is all to change with the arrival of Thomas, and a day later, a girl (shock!) called Theresa. Now I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say that Thomas, Theresa and the boys all work together to try to crack the maze before it’s too late and they all get killed.

Sadly, I can’t really say much about the other two books either without ruining everything but I’ll try a quick no-spoilers summary. Thomas, Theresa and the boys are part of some tests set up by a company called WICKED to find a cure for a horrible disease which has ravaged the planet. The two books see them battling all kinds of things in order to survive and hopefully ensure the survival of mankind.

scorchI found this trilogy to be extremely gripping, almost impossible to put down once picked up. I started them shortly after Christmas and had finished the final instalment by 2nd January. The three books are exciting but also quite brutal in places. Let’s just say that not all the original boys make it to the end. Hell, let’s just say that not even half of them make it to the beginning of the third book! That’s not even giving anything away, Dashner kills off characters with surprising readiness. It’s good though, because you don’t know what to expect and it keeps the trilogy from becoming too predictable. The books are also full of nice little touches, like the language adaptations the boys make while they’re living in the Glade, and the fact the boys are all named after famous scientists.

However, I did have some minor problems with the trilogy. I found them to be slightly childish, even for me! If I’m honest, I don’t think these books are exactly aimed at my age group (or anyone over the age of 18) and think they would probably suit teenage boys best (I’d say boys around fourteen would love them). Despite these books being full of mature themes such as violence, death and sacrifice, I found something lacking with Thomas’s relationship with Theresa and feel it should have been explored in more depth.

I also felt the central premise of the books to be ridiculous. I love sci fi, and have absolutely no problem with curesomeone proposing unlikely future worlds. However, they have to be backed up with something, the author has to make their future seem not just plausible but possible, like it could actually happen. You might initially think The Hunger Games seemed silly with its districts and fights to the death in the style of gladiators. But the reality TV aspect and the corrupt Capitol made it all seem that tiny bit more possible. I mean, we’ll watch just about anything in a reality TV format, and the materialistic, fashion-obsessed caricatures that live in the Capitol did make you think a bit about the way society seems to be heading today. Sadly, I felt Dashner’s novels were lacking some of this. I just didn’t buy that in order to cure a virus you needed to put some teenage boys in a maze for two years, and then through some other hard trials in which they mostly all perish. And when you realise what happens in the end I wanted to yell at the book “WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST DO THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE?” It’s frustrating at times.

But overall, I really enjoyed reading them. They are similar in feel to The Hunger Games trilogy so I say if you enjoyed those, give ’em a go! I think I’d mostly recommend these books for a slightly younger less cynical audience, however, and think teenage boys especially will love them. They’re exciting, fast-paced and brutal (in an acceptable way, like the literary equivalent of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, rather than Hostel or Saw or anything).

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I’m Doing NaNoWriMo 2012!

This year I will actually be attempting NaNoWriMo 2012. For those of you who don’t know what this means, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and is where people around the world commit to writing a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. I’ve been wanting to have a go at this for a few years now but didn’t have the confidence. This year however, I’ve decided to give it a go!

I’ll admit I was a bit late to start with this, I only remembered it started on November 1st last night at around 10pm so at the moment I’ve only written 600 words. Still it’s a start! I will hopefully be making up for this today, cramming in a couple of thousand words. The aim is to write about 1700 words a day.

The big question was what to write about? Well, I have tentatively put that I will be writing a sci fi novel “probably involving some form of time travel” on my NaNoWriMo profile, but I’m not sure how this will play out. I had a great idea about a story involving time travel but have already confused myself over paradoxes and things so I’m tempted to abandon the time travel plot in favour of something more straight forward. Still, they say you should just write whatever comes to mind first, and worry about editing in December. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I haven’t decided yet if I will be writing one novel or several short stories, or even just some articles. My aim is simply to write lots all through November, as practice makes perfect and ultimately I want to write for a living (this is the dream). I think it’s excellent practice for getting into the mindset of writing lots every day.

Here’s a snippet of what I’ve done so far:

“I have seen the future, and it makes a mockery of Orwell and Huxley. They didn’t realise how much power chaos has.”

Cringe! I must admit that when I started last night I was thinking of an extremely overdramatic plot involving the end of the world so it’s a bit doom and gloom at this stage. Hoping to lighten things up a bit today with some ace characters so we’ll see where the writing takes me!

Wish me luck! I’m going to need it to make it to the end of November! I really don’t want this to turn out to be ANOTHER thing I start and don’t finish!


Quick Review: The End Specialist by Drew Magary

Ok! I’ll admit I have been totally rubbish at blogging recently, and have even been avoiding the blog for the last couple of weeks! I’m not sure why, I think it’s because the longer I left it the more daunting it got… if that makes sense? Anyway, I decided to just bite the bullet and blog about a book I read aaaaggges ago, but was one of the most fascinating takes on the future I’ve read. I know I said I was leaning against book reviews but I’ve had a change of heart and besides, this summer I read A LOT and have lots to tell you about!

You may not know this, but I’m a HUGE fan of end of the world/post apocalyptic books. The more desperate the situation the characters are in, the better! I’m not sure why I like them so much, it could be because they make me feel a lot better about my life in a it-could-be-so-much-worse kind of way, or it could just be that they’re exciting books that enable us to visualise that which we hopefully won’t see in our lifetime (although apparently the world is in fact going to end in December this year so… eek).

You might not initially think that The End Specialist was this type of book, based on the central theme. It’s what I call a “what-if” book, a sort of fictionalised mental exercise in which you imagine how society would change if something was radically altered. In this case it’s “what if we invented a cure for ageing?” and explores how this cure would affect the whole world. But if you thought there was going to be a happy everyone-was-immortal-and-lived-forever-in-peace ending, you’d be corrected as soon as you saw the title of the prologue, which is: “A Note About The Text From The Department of Containment, United North American Territories”. An ominous beginning if ever there was one.

The End Specialist follows John and what happens to him after he gets the “cure”. Written as if a blog, the book is different from others which explore the world after a major catastrophe (The Road, The Hunger Games, etc.) as it explores the disaster while it is happening. You get a real sense of being stuck in the middle of events which will change the world as we know it forever. It’s also interesting because it explores not only the social impacts of the “cure” (divorce rates soaring, marriage rates plummeting, people having fixed-term marriages), but the economic (population rates rising, resources running out, starvation and disease) and the political (Russia makes all its soldiers in the army get the cure and begins a new aggressive foreign policy). The book jumps forward a few decades several times throughout the book, and in this way Magary is able to explore the really long term affects of such a “cure”. Eventually, people begin wishing they could die, and there becomes a market for people who are willing to help them. These people are called “End Specialists” and our protagonist, John becomes one.

Overall I found this an interesting, if a little depressing, read. The sheer amount of thought put into the central concept of the book and its consequences is staggering, and very impressive. Magary has considered every possible outcome of the cure and has included it into his not-overly-long novel. However, John isn’t a hugely sympathetic character and the real fall back with having a blog-style book is that it becomes faintly ridiculous during moments of life-shattering action that he would be blogging all the way through it (I don’t want to spoil the end so I won’t go into detail). Having said that I’d definitely recommend this to any fellow fan of the genre.