Friday, June 10, 2011

The Maze Runner by James Dashner




I have been on a dystopian bender this past year. For some reason, I am drawn to the end of the world. Or some horrible version of it. 

In the stories I've read, the world has gone through virus infections that have created vampire-like humanoids in "The Passage," the world's teens have to endured the Hunger Games in the "Hunger Games" trilogy, and women's roles are severely reversed for their safety in "The Handmaid's Tale." 

My latest adventure, another tale for young adults, finds teenage boys stuck in a giant stone maze a la "The Lord of the Flies." Survival of the fittest? Check. Boys alone to fend for themselves? Check. A violent act in order to keep order? Roger that, but will you keep it down on the gruesome? 

I have discovered another dystopian trilogy, aimed at teens, that involves hints of science fiction. I'm glad I'm not writing one of these...the market is rife with them. "The Maze Runner" is still creative and a fun read, but it's not visceral like "The Hunger Games." James Dashner keeps it pretty tepid with the gore, violence and the ick

About 50 teenagers live in the Glade, which is the center of this giant maze, where they have a small farmstead. They take care of the Glade, raise livestock, run the maze to figure out if they can solve it, remember nothing of their previous lives and some of the kids have been living there for up to two years. Oh, and there are cyborg-like slug creatures that venture the maze at night. Luckily, the Glade has walls that close the kids in at night, but everything changes when the main character, Thomas, winds up in the Glade. 

The goal? To get out of the maze. But, the problem with the maze is that it shifts each night. 

There's also something odd about Thomas. It's like he's been to the Glade before. And others sense it, too. But there's such a backlash of fog in the brain, none of them can piece any of it together. That is, unless you get stung by one of the cyborg-slugs called Grievers. For some reason, their sting helps bring back the memories of before...for a price. 

Each kid in the Glade has a job to do, and Thomas wants to be a maze runner. Obviously, he becomes one because that's the title of the book, so there's no surprise there. It's how he becomes one so quickly that makes it interesting. 

But what throws everything off track even more? After only boys have been sent to the maze/Glade for the past two years, a girl shows up. We discover that she and Thomas share a telepathic relationship. And somehow they already know each other, too. (They are destined to be lovers.) They just don't remember it.

Mr. Dashner keeps it interesting. And of course, there's a huge twist at the end, which lets you know that there will be more books (a trilogy?), and so the reader is left scratching his head. 

Now, it's time for me to complain. 

The dialogue in this book is rough. This is coming from someone who writes dialogue and isn't afraid of it. I read everywhere that one of the most difficult aspects of writing is the dialogue between characters. For some reason, I do not fall into this category. I'm the opposite. Dialogue is easy for me. So, when I come across stilted dialogue that is painful to read -- it becomes a struggle. I don't care how creative the story is. If you can't make your characters talk realistically, call me up and I'll write it for you. Just don't make me read about a bunch of teenagers who don't really talk like that! (It doesn't help that I teach them and I hear how they speak on a daily basis, except for summer.)

The other annoying part of the book, also language related, was how Dashner tried to create a "language" of the Glade. He did so in a very haphazard way, but it gets to the point where I want to stab my eyes because really it's just two words and they're used over and over again. The two words the characters employ are "klunk" and "shuck." We are told that when you take a pooh, it makes the sound of "klunk" when it lands. That's why they use it. Since we're talking about boys here...of course the language will be derived from poop. 

The other word, shuck, is a PG replacement of the F-word. Not a very creative replacement at that. So, as you read, you will get dialogue like this:

"What the klunk do you think you're doing you shucking idiot?"

Shuck ends up having the same effect as the word "smurf." 

As I gear up for the second book, "The Scorch Trials," I brace myself for the repetition of all that shucking klunk. Once you get past all that shucking klunk, the story is actually entertaining and the reader wants to know more. 

(Addendum: As of now, I will not read the remainder of the series. In the first few pages of "The Scorch Trials," when the survivors of the maze meet a new foe, sick/zombie-like people, the dialogue is so unrealistic I had to put the book down. If a broken window was the only thing between me and a bunch of sick loonies, I wouldn't be making witty rhetoric with my friends (and bad rhetoric at that). And if I was going to make witty rhetoric, I would do it a la an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where witticims in the face of death are no big thang and done right.)