Every so often I get stuck in a reading rut. A slump. You know the kind I’m talking about—you pick up title after title, yet none manage to hold your interest. Last week, I was in this horrible biblio-limbo, unsure of what to read to break me out of my speculative fiction malaise, but then I alighted on The Games, buried in the deep recesses of my e-reader’s vast, virtual TBR shelf.
Given the pending release of The Hunger Games on DVD and the timeliness of the recently concluded XXX Summer Olympic Games, I decided that it was finally time to dive into Ted Kosmatka’s debut novel. A blend of Jurassic Park, in writing style and genetics-tinkering, combined with the “fight-to-the-death” sentiments of The Hunger Games, set in the not-too-distant 2044 Olympics, The Games was exactly what I needed to break me out of my apathetic fugue state.
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So, fellow SFF readers, if you are also in the mood for something to tide you over in this post-Olympics, pre-Hunger Games DVD world, I give you 10 books perfect for the bloodthirsty speculative fiction junkie in all of us.
The Games by Ted Kosmatka
It is the year 2044, and the Olympics include a gladiatorial event in which genetically engineered creatures fight to the death for god and country. The only rule? No human DNA allowed. The American combatant this year, however, is unlike anything anyone has ever seen before and, well, you know how this song goes, don’t you?
The Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines
In a nutshell, Lise Haines’ debut novel is a dystopian, slightly futuristic gladiator-to-the-death on live TV story, starring a female protagonist out to avenge her father’s death. Less bloodthirsty, with strikingly spare prose, The Girl in the Arena is a fascinating take on our current fascination with televised violence.
The Gone Series by Michael Grant
A bunch of kids are stranded in the seaside California town of Perdido Beach, trapped inside a giant domelike force field. And they start developing certain mutations. And killing each other. Make no mistake, while these books might look like a lighthearted ABC family TV series, the Gone books are among the darkest, most gruesome tales I have ever read.
The Inferior Series by Peadar O’Guilin
In Stopmouth’s world, there is only one rule: eat or be eaten. Under the domed sky, humans are an endangered tribe that fights other vicious, intelligent species to eat and to survive. And then, one day, a woman falls from a globe in the sky and everything Stopmouth knows about his world changes. The Inferior is an amazing yet woefully under-appreciated SFF novel, with the recent release of The Deserter (book 2), hopefully more people will find their way to this solid series.
The Tomorrow When the War Began Series by John Marsden
Upon returning from a camping trip in the bush, Ellie and her friends find their families gone, and their sleepy small town invaded by a foreign armed force, and they must decide whether to surrender, to hide or to fight. In the vein of The Hunger Games, this classic Australian dystopian series (seven novels plus a spinoff series!) has recently been made into a film.
The Running Man by Richard Bachman
Another book-turned-film, The Running Man is Stephen King’s pseudonymously published SFF novel. Set in a dystopian 2025, Ben Richards desperately needs money for his family, so he turns to the Games Network and becomes a contestant on “The Running Man.” For every hour he stays alive, he makes 100 New Bucks. It’s easier said than done, with professional Hunters out to track and kill Richards for a live audience of millions. While the Schwarzenegger film is great fun, it’s markedly different than the book, so if you haven’t read it yet, give it a try.
The Chaos Walking Series by Patrick Ness
On a distant planet, the world is full of Noise, every thought expressed, audibly, in a torrent of ceaseless sound. All human women have died, as a side effect of the Noise Germ (unleashed by the local alien species in a brutal war), and Todd Hewitt is the last boy in a world of Men. Then, he discovers a hole in the Noise, an impossibly alive girl from the stars. This trilogy from Patrick Ness is, in my humble opinion, the Hunger Games trilogy’s superior in every way. If you haven’t read the series yet, you need to get on board.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Moira Young’s debut novel Blood Red Road is a bleak dystopia that is equal parts Western and speculative fiction. Following Saba and her tagalong baby sister across an arid wasteland as she desperately searches to save her kidnapped older brother, Blood Red Road is a wonderful, cinematic novel (and yes, it has been optioned for film by Ridley Scott). Bonus: the book includes an honest-to-goodness Gladiator/Beyond Thunderdome sequence.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
This is a total gimme, of course, but one can’t make a list of books to read (or films to watch) of The Hunger Games variety without including this classic, wildly popular book-turned-film-turned-manga. Battle Royale is The Hunger Games on steroids—higher stakes, higher body count, tougher decisions. I’m a huge fan of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, but having read and watched Battle Royale first, I can’t help but wish Collins’ work had the urgency and teeth (for lack of a better word) of Takami’s.
The Long Walk by Richard Bachman
To me, The Long Walk is one of Stephen King’s best and most underrated novels. The Long Walk tells the story of 100 teenage boys who enter the eponymous annual competition: each boy must walk a very long walk, never slowing below four miles per hour, until only one walker remains. Any boy that slows down for longer than 30 seconds is issued a warning; three warnings, and the boy has bought himself a “ticket”—that is, he’s shot dead. This is brilliant, harrowing read, and in many ways the struggle that Katniss faces in the Hunger Games books is similar to the quiet internalization of protagonist Ray Garraty in The Long Walk.
Of course, there are sure to be any other number of books and lists for the Hunger Games fan to try. Any other suggestions or recommendations?