Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Maze Runner is Kind of Klunky

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is not Ender's Game. This is not The Hunger Games. But if you're a fan of young-adult science fiction/fantasy and need something to tide you over for awhile, this might do the trick.

Someday I'll design a book-rating system that can account for books that are not well-written, but still make you eager to keep reading.  I would give The Maze Runner's writing and the characterization one star, without any qualms of conscience. [Perhaps "James Dashner" is the YA alias of E.L. James? That would explain some things.]  However, I ended up giving it a three-star rating because -- and this is true -- I will probably read at least one more book in the series. How can I not say "liked it" (Goodreads's definition for three stars) when I did, in fact, like it enough to want to read more?

Unfortunately, this book's strength (its intriguing and somewhat inventive plot) is also the cause of its biggest weakness (the lack of character development). For the uninitiated, The Maze Runner is the story of a group of teenage boys who are dropped into a giant maze, which they spend years trying to solve.  Even more mysteriously, other than their names, they can't remember anything about their lives before the maze.

Do you see the problem? How interesting can a character possibly be when he has no childhood memories, no relationship history, no experiences to shape his values and emotional responses? And worse yet, everyone else around him is the same?

I also found the determined injection of special maze slang into the boys' conversations pretty annoying.
"We live here, this is it.  Better than living in a pile of klunk."  He squinted, maybe anticipating Thomas's question.  "Klunk's another word for poo.  Poo makes a klunk sound when it falls in our pee pots."
Nevermind that "Poo makes a klunk sound when it falls in our pee pots" sounds like something a five-year-old would say.  (Also, ew.)  I'm more disturbed by the fact that Mr. Dashner felt that the explanation was necessary.  Imagine if Battlestar Galactica had used that tactic:  "You see, frak's another word for the f-word, except for some reason we can say one on television but not the other."
Starbuck is not fraking amused.
You just don't explain slang, especially pseudo-swearing.  You use it, and people figure it out from context.

Nevertheless, I kept reading, wanting to see how the maze would be solved.  Maybe it's the same trait that makes it possible for me to play Bejeweled or Snood for hours on end.  Then the ending opened up the possibility of a whole new puzzle, so... I'll let you know how the next book is.


Anonymous said...

The phenomenon you describe is very common in science fiction books for me. For example I love reading books by Larry Niven, however he writes conversations so poorly that I often can't tell who is speaking. However his science fiction ideas are so good that he keeps me coming back for more.

Anonymous said...

As a connoisseur of fine titles, I had to leave a note saying I like the way your title alliterates and also connects so intimately with some of your criticism of the book. Kind of clever.