Monday, September 23, 2019

The Maze Runner Series

The Maze Runner series, James Dashner

Some books really make you stop and wonder about the imagination of the author. I have read a fair amount of dystopia in recent years: Tomorrow, When the War BeganThe Hunger Games, Scythe and so on. Most have intrigued me when their concepts, creativity and premises. But The Maze Runner series has horrified me. Dashner has created a truly awful post apocalyptic world.

I’ll give an outline of the overall story, because I think parents may want to know what it’s about before they decide to recommend it or not to their kids. (I am giving away some things now that it takes a while to figure out while reading).

Extreme sun flares have left the earth barren, boiling hot and mostly empty with rising sea levels. In the years following, as communities of survivors started to rebuild and form basic groups; remaining governments formed the Post Flares Coalition. To complicate things, a man made weapon virus made its way into the populace. Named The Flare, death rates were astronomical, but more terrifying are its effects: the slow decline of all features of humanity, so that by the end people are lower than animals with no cognitive function, turning to self harm, mutilation and cannibalism.

It seems a very small proportion of the remaining population are immune and so the race is on to develop a cure. Enter WICKED, a scientific subset of the PFC working around the clock to map the killzone (brain) by extended tests and challenges, all on teenagers.

All of this becomes clear as Books 1 and 2 unfold. The Maze Runner starts with Thomas waking up in a large metal box which delivers him to the Glade. Greeted by the approximately 50 boys who already live there, who are maintaining their community though farming and supplies delivered from The Creators. Thomas has no memory at all and it becomes clear that no other boy did either when they arrived. They have managed to provide for their needs, and certain boys spend their days mapping the enormous maze that surrounds them. The next day Teresa is delivered to the Glade. It soon become clear that no more supplies are coming and they must escape from the as yet unsolvable maze.

Book 1 charts the final weeks of the Maze project, as they try to find their way out. They have to battle terrifying creatures called Grievers, bulbous fatty creations with numerous weapons attached that maim, sting and kill. Tensions rise between various boys and justice is meted out as necessary. They have developed their own language which has given Dashner the ability to insert a massive among of swearing among the boys, even though they are not words we would use for the purpose. (e.g. shuck). When I finished this book, the words I wrote down immediately were: action packed, extreme, violent and imaginative.

Book 2 The Scorch reveals that the vast experiment of the maze was actually only Phase 1. In this Phase 2, the kids are dropped off in an equatorial region, now blinding desert and populated only by Cranks (those infected with The Flare). They have to make their way through the region to safety on the other side. Again, it’s all part of one massive experiment. My thoughts through this book were that is was overwhelmingly, unnecessarily violent. The back of this book summed it up in three words: adrenalin-fuelled, horrifying and page-turner. That’s pretty spot on.

Book 3 is The Death Cure. As it becomes increasingly apparent that WICKED will stop at nothing to try to formulate their cure for The Flare and continue the survival of the human species, Thomas and his friends are aware that they will never escape, and their trials will never be over. It’s one very extreme version of ‘the ends justify the means’ at all costs. The conclusion was inevitable, but it took a long time to get there.

Books 4 and 5 are prequels. The Kill Order gives the back story both to the time immediately after the sun flares, as well as when the Flare virus was released. The Fever Code charts the lives of Thomas, Teresa and their friends in the years prior to going into the maze, once they are the property of WICKED. They are interesting, but just as violent and disturbing in different ways.

At this point you are possibly wondering whey I kept reading them all. I am wondering the same. They were an interesting premise and they were imaginative, but as I have said, also confronting and disturbing. I kept reading them because Miss (almost) 12 loved them. I kept asking why, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. My reflection is that the story drew her in, and she cannot conceive of a world where this could actually happen. So, it was interesting but complete fantasy. I, on the other hand, could actually see a grain of truth in much of it and therefore found it much scarier. As I thought about it further, I can see that this is an author who has a true dense of total human depravity.

Personally I think Tomorrow, When the War Began, Hunger Games and Scythe are better at opening up some larger issues, without the extreme violence (and for those that have read the others, that’s saying something). But, perhaps like my daughter, your kids may love it too! Having said that, I wouldn’t have recommended it to her, and am a little surprised it was available in the primary school library. The publisher’s website does suggest 13+. There is definitely no way either of us want to watch any visual representation of it.

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