Book Review | The Maze Runner by James Dashner

9780385737951Some people might think that The Maze Runner is a Hunger Games wannabe, but since it was published only one month after Hunger Games, the people who think that obviously don’t know how long it takes to write a book. That said, it’s definitely going to appeal to the same audience.

If you are thinking about reading this book, here’s what you need to know:

The plot is compelling. The main character, Thomas, wakes up in an elevator without any memory of his life before now. He gets off the elevator to discover a society made up of teenage guys who also can’t remember their former lives. Hemmed in by a gargantuan maze, Thomas and the others must find their way through in order to figure out why they are there in the first place. However, no one’s ever made it through the maze alive. And then, just one day after Thomas shows up, something happens that has never happened before. A girl arrives on the elevator with a warning. Everything is going to change.

The characters are less compelling. In fact, at times, they are downright tiresome. If I had more time, I would go back and count how many times Thomas says something like, “I can’t understand why, but I know that I want to be a Maze Runner.” Anyway, if I had a nickel for every instance, I’d be a dollar or so richer. Also, none of the characters undergo any dynamic shifts, but since this is only the first book in a series, perhaps I need to keep reading in order to see some change.

This book will soon be a film. So if you are the type of person who likes reading a book before seeing the film, you’ll want to pick it up. Here’s the film’s trailer:

Basically, if you like young adult post-apocalyptic thrillers where teens have to battle monsters (without and within) and the elements in order to fight the oppressive regime that controls their lives, you’ll probably like The Maze Runner. I’d give it a 7/10. It was worth reading, but I don’t know if I’d read it twice. Who knows? Maybe when I finish the series, my tune will change (yeah, I plan on finishing the series).

I am a dinosaur decapitator.

We had a great Jot Conference last Friday night!

A full crowd showed up to hear some great speakers, and I was happy to be among them. The conference that my writers group, the Weaklings, put on is just as much for us as it is for other writers in our area. Perhaps more so.

In any event, I’d like to share a bit of what I learned from our first presenter and newest member of the Weaklings, Thomas McClurg.

Saying that Thomas is a film buff is like saying Rip Van Winkle took a catnap. But his passion for watching movies is exceeded by his passion for writing. And in many ways, his experience with films and screenwriting has helped him as a fiction writer.

The overlap between the disciplines of writing for the screen and writing books is obvious. Both invite people to lose themselves in the worlds created for them. Both involve good character development and solid plots. And both are made up of a series of scenes which must further the action or risk losing the watcher/reader.

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

To this last point, Thomas shared the example of picturing a scene as an Apatosaurus. The head is the beginning of the scene, the long neck gives more information while moving slowly toward the large body or meat of the scene. The tail is what happens after the main action occurs. After giving us this illustration, Thomas showed us two scenes from the Star Trek reboot, one of which was this one:

In the scene, we are shown a car speeding through the desert driven by a boy. The boy jumps from the car just before it plummets off a cliff. As the police officer who had been chasing the boy stands over him, he asks his name. The punch line for the scene is the boy’s revelation to be James Tiberius Kirk.

If this scene were an Apatosaurus, its head and tail had been removed, leaving only the body of the dinosaur. We didn’t see young Kirk steal the car, and we didn’t see the police officer take him into custody afterward.

Thomas said that this is a good way of keeping the reader’s attention, especially when the attention spans of readers are shortening by the minute. He asked us to write a full scene, then cut the head and tail off the dinosaur. Leave only the meat.

This is as true to screenwriting as it is to novel-writing (and even more true to flash fiction writing), but some writers forget this and leave readers floundering through pages of description without giving them a plot or a character onto which they may latch.

Thomas had a lot more great things to say. You may be able to watch the whole conference online here if the video works. And if it doesn’t, you probably should have come to the Jot event.

I am into good ideas, not poor executions.

IntimefairuseMy wife and I made the mistake of getting the movie “In Time” from the library recently. Why? Because as I was telling one of my friends about an idea I had for a short story, he informed me that it sounded a lot like that movie.

“Darn,” I said then.

“Double darn,” I say now that I’ve seen it. Well, now that I’ve seen forty minutes of it, anyway.

For those who haven’t seen heard of “In Time,” it stars Justin Timberlake and is set in the not-too-distant future. All currency has been replaced with time. People are genetically engineered to stop aging at twenty-five, at which time their clock starts ticking down one year. If you wish to survive for longer than one year, you must work in order to earn more time. Timberlake plays a poor working man with dreams of bringing down the system. He gets the chance when a rich man who tires of life (he’s been alive for over a century) gives Timberlake his time and tells him to use it wisely.

That’s the premise. My idea, the one that I shared with my friend who told me about the film, was similar in so far as lifespan was used as a form of currency. In my story, I got into the science of what makes people age (current science posits that it has something to do with the length and degradations of part of a person’s chromosomes called “telomeres“) and the people were able to trade their youth for money in the same way that people can currently trade their blood and plasma for money (which I have done and of which I am a fan).

After hearing my friend’s description of “In Time”, I changed the premise of my story substantially (and since I’m trying to sell it to publishers, I’m not going to divulge any of the plot here). But I still hadn’t seen the film. So I borrowed it from my local library.

At least I didn’t pay for it. No matter how good the idea of the film was, and I really liked the possibilities of using lifespan as a form of currency, the execution was quite poor. And since one of the primary messages of the film was a warning against people wasting time, my wife and I clicked it off after forty minutes.

Hoping that the film was based on some book that may have been written better, I just looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently, there are a number of books that boast similar themes and one that threatened a lawsuit against the filmmakers for copyright infringement (the suit was dropped after the author saw the film). Anyway, I may now read some of those books, but I won’t be recommending the film. After all, books are almost always better than their movies.

In summary, don’t waste your time on “In Time”.

Suffering Through Little Miss Sunshine

Are you ready for a shock? My wife and I don’t have a working television. There. I said it. Judge us if you want to.

We used to have a Netflix subscription, but that was long enough ago now that we’re back on their “free trial” email list. Nope, if we have a hankering to veg out in front of a screen, we do so courtesy of our local library. In fact, I recently discovered the joys of reserving DVDs online through my library’s website.

It’s great! I can request 10 titles at a time and they call me when those titles are available to pick up. And since we visit the library regularly for our kids anyway, it takes no extra effort on our part to pick up movies for ourselves. Of course, the limiting factor is the same as the reason we don’t have cable or Netflix; we still need time to watch things.

little_miss_sunshineAnyway, one of the movies that I reserved a while back was Little Miss Sunshine. I swear I remember some friends of mine recommending this movie, and since it won some acclaim at Sundance and got a few awards from the Academy, I thought my wife and I might enjoy it.

I was only half right.

My wife stopped watching about half way through the movie, choosing sleep over frustration with a poor movie choice. I, however, am one of those people who will stick with a movie, even when the characters aren’t all that likeable or when things keep going wrong, in order to see how it ends. So I chose to finish the movie alone while my beautiful wife slept.

If you haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine, here’s the one-sentence plot synopsis according to A family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.

Or here’s the trailer.

The family is made up of an unattractive little girl who dreams of being a beauty queen, a unsuccesful self-help guru, a divorcee, a heroin-addicted grandfather, a hate-filled teen who has taken a vow of silence and a suicidal, homosexual Proust scholar. Along the trip to the beauty pageant, bad things happen… and continue to happen.

That’s one of the reasons why my wife rolled over and stopped watching. What is the point of watching bad things happen to people she didn’t like?

But there was a bit of dialogue that happened after she gave up on the film that made the movie for me. Here’s the exchange:

Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap-high school and everything-just skip it.

Frank: Do you know who Marcel Proust is?

Dwayne: He’s the guy you teach.

Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh… he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you’re 18… Ah, think of the suffering you’re gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-those are your prime suffering years. You don’t get better suffering than that.

Yesterday, I was doing some research for the next Bible study that my small group is going to do together, and I was encouraged to look into a new study by Max Lucado called You’ll Get Through This. It’s a study that goes through the unfortunate life of the Bible’s Joseph and offers encouragement for people facing hardships.

The reason I bring up the Bible study on the heels of Little Miss Sunshine is because of the incredible timing of being introduced to both of them.

Suffering happens. All the time and in every way imaginable. According to Little Miss Sunshine, suffering will make us who we are. According to Max Lucado, there is a loving God who is there for us while we suffer.

I think both are true.

And though I learned something from the movie, I think I’ll let my wife pick out the next one so she doesn’t have to suffer from my choices again.

Win Stuff | The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Box Set

Leave me a comment with your ideas for this blog. Now. Do it now.

You could be as happy as me if you win this set of books.

Here’s the deal. I’m giving away a box set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is the set that I bought right after the Fellowship of the Ring came out in theaters. I bought it to replace the well-worn copies that my dad had laying around. Well, I still have those well-worn copies. Also, my wife brought a really nice hardcover set into the marriage. As much as it pains me to say this, I don’t need three copies of the same series. So I’m giving this box set away.

If you’ve never read the whole series, now’s your chance. If you are quick about it, you can just finish them in time for the arrival of The Hobbit (part one) in the theaters this December.

So how can you win?

Simple. Just tell me what you’d like to see from this blog of mine. Share with me any questions that you have, any ideas for posts, any themes or categories that I’m lacking. Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll pull the winner next Monday, April 30th, and announce the results here on my blog.

The Fine Print: I’m not made of money, so although I love international comments, I can’t ship internationally. Sorry about that.