For some reason, I’ve found myself reading a lot of YA fiction over the last couple years. On the negative side, it appears that Dystopias are the genre du jour. Nothing wrong with them, and I think something about them speaks to teens. When I was a teen, that was my favorite genre – 1984, A Brave New World, and many others. But I think there can definitely end up being a bit of fatigue from reading books where the conflict is with the evil government rather than internal or with other peers.
But there have also been quite positive trends like an increase in female protagonists. In this case, Gabby was even likable, unlike Katniss. As I commented in a status update, she seemed to be a pretty authentically written girl. Sure, just like pretty much every bit of YA fiction for the past couple decades (or more) there’s the mean girl clique trope and the I used to be one of them trope. But Carpenter appears to rely on less stereotypes and the friendships and fights seem to be realistically portrayed. Another good trend, while no one appears to be explicitly gay or lesbian, in a scene I’d rather not spoil, the main character mentions she wouldn’t be grossed out by another female character kissing her. It’s not what she’d want, but it wouldn’t be any different from a guy she didn’t like kissing her.
As you can currently read on the Goodreads description of this book, the entire world has been gamified; this is what led me to decide to read this book (I’d gotten it as part of a Storybundle collection). I’ve seen a huge increase and intrusion of gamification into our world. Once people realized how much we loved Xbox, PS3, and Steam trophies/achievements, they started incorporating them into everything. Fitocracy, which I used to use to log my exercises, has trophies for doing random amounts of exercise. The Fedora Project (governing body of the Fedora distribution of Linux) has badges for various achievements. Even my Marriott frequent stay program has badges for various things – stays of certain lengths, writing reviews, etc. So the idea of an entire world in which this was true sounded pretty neat. Carpenter even has fun with the idea by having the culture revolve around video games. Just as the citizens of Brave New World used Ford as an invocation, in this world “that’s so cool/rad/awesome” becomes “That’s so Mario!” and the opposite is, naturally, “that’s so Bowser!” I went back and forth with finding it cute and groan-worthy.
I am not going to accuse Carpenter of stealing any ideas because the ideas really seem to be in the zeitgeist right now – the general idea follows that of The Hunger Games, Mars Rising, and Battle Royale – there’s a competition in which the stakes are more or less life or death at the climax of this book. The main difference is that, unlike those other books – the kids are in the dark about the stakes at hand. They just think it’s the difference between a good university and a crappy job. It shares more with Mars Rising and Devil on my Back in that sense. And Carpenter does a good job of presenting the challenge in the form of a Raid, in keeping with the culture of this world.
Really there’s just one thing I don’t like about this book when compared to its brethren. If you look at The Hunger Games, Mars Rising, or (in the movie world) The Matrix – each of those has a first book that works on its own. If you never read books 2 and 3 you’ll still come away having had a full story arc. I don’t know how the Mars Rising Sequels will work, but for both Hunger Games and The Matrix – part 2 does not end nice and neat like the first entry. If you experience 2, you need 3. But Gamers does not work well on its own. And, frankly, if it’s going to end that way, I’d rather just have a bigger book instead of a trilogy. For another analogy, if you look at the world of comics – many of them have long-running stories going on. But each arc (usually published as a trade) tends to be self-sufficient. You can read the trade and feel that you got a beginning, middle, and end – even if it’s dropping hints of various levels of subtlety about what’s coming next.
Overall, it’s a good setup in a neat world with a female protagonist. Things could have been a lot worse. But I wish we could have had a bit more closure in this first entry into the trilogy.