Writing on the Pages – The Maze Runner #4: Chapters 10-11

#01: A Little Background
#02: Chapters 1-5
#03: Chapters 6-9

Hey, you! Finally back to this book. Yes, I’m still reading it, even though it’s been two years since I got it and if I weren’t doing this blog on it, I’d be able to polish it off in two, three days tops. Now let’s see, where was I?

CHAPTER 10

Moving as fast as he could, Thomas crashed through the heavy foliage, thin branches slapping at his face.

… All the while, his eyes stayed riveted on the beetle blade scuttling across the forest floor.

Oh yeah! At the end of Chapter 9, Thomas found a beetle blade – a buglike robot that, according to Alby, is used by whoever set up the Glade to spy on its residents – and decided to go after it. How long does his chase go on? It doesn’t even last to the end of the page.

He’d lost the sucker.

“Shuck it,” Thomas whispered, almost as a joke. Almost. As strange as it seemed, the word felt natural on his lips, like he was already morphing into a Glader.

I’d make yet another snide comment ridiculing the forced usage of this childish euphemism, but something’s changed. Since I started doing this blog and thinking in-depth about this book …

I’ve caught myself using the word.

Dear god, I’m going native! Quick, book, remind me that you’re silly!

A twig snapped somewhere to his right and he jerked his head in that direction. …

“Who’s there?” Thomas yelled out, a tingle of fear shooting across his shoulders. …

“Anybody there? … It’s me, Thomas. The new guy. Well, second-newest guy.”

There we go, thanks, dear! And before you say anything about me being too critical, even Thomas thinks he, and I quote, “sounded like a complete idiot.”

What’s going on now is that Thomas heard a few sudden sounds and started walking towards the point he believes they came from. Without meaning to, he finds himself at the graveyard.

Thomas is already aware of some of the possible dangers of his new existence, and now he is at the one place where this awful truth can be made truly clear. Our protagonist, the new Glader (well, second-newest), is walking over the graves of teenagers, the poor souls who died well before their time without ever learning the truth of the land that ultimately killed them! If handled right, this scene can be a chilling and emotional turning point. What’s Thomas’s next move?

He leaned closer to the first cross. It looked fresh and bore the name Stephen …

Stephen, Thomas thought, feeling an unexpected but detached sorrow. What’s your story? Chuck annoy you to death?

Have some goddamn respect! Guys, if you’re not reading this book, you don’t understand just how irritating this is. Dashner is actually really competent at description and build-up, and the way he described the graveyard itself before this garbage happened strongly evoked a mood of somberness, silence, and reverence. But when he brings his protagonist face-to-face with a reminder that he can die here – and the grave is fresh – he makes the lad crack a joke at the expense of another character.

Is this meant to be comedy relief? This is the precisely wrong moment for comedy! The kid’s in a cemetery made by other kids for other kids, and you, you just – why?!

So he checks out the other graves and sees one smaller than the rest. Taking a closer look, Thomas finds that it contains only the head-and-torso half of a corpse. Etched on the window is a marker …

Let this half-shank be a warning to all:
You can’t escape through the Box Hole.

Thomas felt the odd urge to snicker – it seemed tpo ridiculous to be true.

What did I just say what did I just say?! Is Thomas just devoid of empathy? Was he not raised with respect for the dead? That’s probably one of the most horrific events in the history of the Glade and he freaking has to resist from laughing – have some decency! “Odd urge” doesn’t begin to describe how out-of-place this is!

Okay, two strikes. I try to be patient and forgiving, and I’m not giving up on this reading session just yet!

… He had stepped aside to read more names of the dead when another twig broke, this time straight in front of him, right behind the trees on the other side of the graveyard.

Then another snap. Then another. Coming closer. And the darkness was thick.

There we go! What follows is an extremely one-sided fight between Thomas and an unknown attacker, brilliantly described as “a relentless jumble of skin and bones cavorting on top of him.” This ambusher even manages to really hurt Thomas, driving him into one of the grave markers and biting his shoulder like a freaking zombie! After all the strikes in this chapter, this is a single-base, maybe even double-base hit. And the attacker?

It’s Ben!

… You know, the screaming guy from the infirmary!

… The guy who’s really sick and stuff?

Well, even if you can’t remember him, it’s him!

CHAPTER 11

Thank goodness we’re done with that trainwreck of a chapter, and this one’s already off to a good start with our hero getting pounced!

Ben crouched, ready to spring for another attack. At some point a knife had made an appearance, gripped in his right hand.

Excuse me, Dashner, did you just say that a knife manifested from nowhere? Was it too hard to edit the previous chapter so that he was holding one the entire time? Okay, forget it, I just wanna see a fight. Give me the fight!

“Ben!”

Thomas looked toward the voice, surprised to see Alby standing at the edge of the graveyard, a mere phantom in the fading light. Relief flooded Thomas’s body – Alby held a large bow, an arrow cocked for the kill, pointed straight at Ben.

“Ben,” Alby repeated. “Stop right now, or you ain’t gonna see tomorrow.”

Aw yeah, the stakes just got raised!

The rest of this scene is just awesome. Ben suddenly tells Alby, “If you kill me, you’ll get the wrong guy,” and goes on to make vague, frightening statements about how Thomas is bad (more accurately, “bad, bad, bad, bad, bad”) and wants “to take us home … out of the Maze” – which is apparently terrible. Ben gets increasingly fidgety, Alby starts counting to three, Thomas is on the verge of flipping out, and then:

There was the sound of snapping wire. The whoosh of an object slicing through the air. The sickening, wet thunk of it finding a home.

Ben’s head snapped violently to the left, twisting is body until he landed on his stomach, his feet pointed toward Thomas. He made no sound.

This story’s reached Lord of the Flies territory, with Ben being the first (I expect more) kid to be killed by other kids – fittingly, in the graveyard. Who knows how many of the other Gladers buried there went through this mysterious “Changing” like he did? How many also died from another Glader’s hand? What was up with the whole “He’ll wanna take us home” thing? Is it a delusion that others before him had? Oh, how nice it is to be critically thinking about this book again instead of sitting there with that 4chan George Costanza face.

Thomas does a little critical thinking of his own: after understandably hurling, he has a realization about all the crap he’s been through.

He’d now been at the Glade for roughly twenty-four hours. One full day. That was it. And look at all the things that had happened. All the terrible things.

Surely it could only get better.

Let’s recap the last 24 hours of Thomas’s life. He:

  • Woke up in a dark hole, trapped in a cage with no memories of his life
  • Found himself in a freakish weird new world while strange kids poked him
  • Got hassled by almost everyone on his first day for no good reason
  • Learned that they’re all trapped in the middle of a maze with robot spies watching them and giant monsters lurking within the maze itself
  • Got suspiciously denied any answers to any of his questions about their situation
  • Was attacked by a psycho with a knife
  • Watched said psycho get arrow’d in the face and freaking die

And these are the first eleven chapters of the book … out of 62. Poor guy.

Out of sympathy for our friend here (and because I was able to write so much on these 1.5 chapters alone), I think I’m gonna cut off this post here. I’ll finish the rest of Chapter 11 in the next edition of Writing on the Pages.

Sincerely,
RADDman

Talking Over the Music – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: 20th Anniversary Tribute, Pt. 2

(Hey, everybody! We needed some extra time to make sure the second half of our tribute to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by the Smashing Pumpkins was perfect. But we needed time to make sure it was perfect. You can check out Part 1 here! So without further ado, heeeeere’s Danny!)

Before I get started with disc two, I’ll just bring up an interesting note about the album’s history: In the time leading up to the release of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Billy Corgan famously compared it to Pink Floyd’s double-length masterpiece The Wall, released in 1979. That album itself became an essential listen for teenagers of its era, with its insanely ambitious production and story-driven lyrics about a troubled, mentally scarred rock star. Mellon Collie, while not exactly aiming to tell an obvious story, definitely carries on its predecessor’s fondness for sheer scale and overblown theatrics, which I guess goes to show that the young generations’ tastes in pop culture don’t really change. If that wasn’t enough proof for me to say that, 2011 saw the release of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83, yet another two-disc epic that saw the French electronic group reaching new levels of success and devotion in very much the same way those two previous works did for their respective bands. Sure enough, frontman Anthony Gonzalez cited Mellon Collie as his main inspiration.

So there is a clear line to be traced across these remarkable albums, all aiming higher than everyone else in their time, spanning two discs and being released almost exactly 16 years apart. This was actually brought to my attention by the questionable minds at Pitchfork Media, of all places, whose review of the reissue of Mellon Collie is actually really well done. Maybe in 2027, another act will take the torch and make the same big leap the youth will desperately need.

Anyways, disc two, intentionally or not, has a very different feel from disc one. The lyrics are generally less direct, the energetic anthems are all but dropped and the tightness of the band performances is downplayed with both rougher, sludgier recording and electronically influenced arrangements. The distinct digital production, another important factor that sets the album apart from Siamese Dream, is further emphasized by these different sounds. The opening one-two punch of “Where the Boys Fear to Tread” (probably the weakest song on the album) and “Bodies” sets the tone for a generally darker, moonlit second hour, with hyperactive madness in place of blind optimism.

But sure enough, we’re faced with another complete tonal shift as “Thirty-Three” politely comes in. The arrangement is a lovely, genuinely quirky combination of graceful piano, country-esque guitars and an understated drum machine; it seems to have foreshadowed today’s dinky indie-pop sound. Far more gentle than most of the previous tracks, “Thirty-Three” is the first in a perfect trio that features some of the only truly adult themes on the album. The lyrics are poetic reflections on Billy’s troubled marriage at the time, as are those of the follow-up “In the Arms of Sleep”, a dreamy, quietly longing ramble of a tune rich with enchanting twangy guitar work.

And then, of course, there’s “1979”. A sentimental, vague recollection of Billy’s youth, this song is something of an inversion of Mellon Collie’s style, from recapturing those years of his life to looking back fondly on them. The magic is in the arrangement once again; it’s as though the entire backing track is a great big rush of childlike wonder coming back to you. In every detail this is probably the best example of a nostalgic anthem ever recorded. It’s only fitting that it ended up being the album’s biggest, most fondly remembered hit.

“Tales of a Scorched Earth”, the very next track, sounds like anything but a hit. It’s insanely manic and totally over-the top, taking the metallic sludginess of “Bodies” and “An Ode to No One” to its greatest extreme. The music and vocals are barely even discernible! That little bout of insanity is followed by “Thru the Eyes of Ruby”, a dark epic that somehow matches the sheer scope of “Porcelina” and mirrors it in tone. Billy returns to full angst mode here, but his lyrics and vocals manage the amazing achievement of making the youthful venom sound as seductive as it did in high school. As for the collective band performance, I believe it’s as good as anything the Pumpkins have ever done. The ambitious dynamics are pulled off to perfection, resulting in a dramatic whirlpool of guitars and charging drums. Jimmy Chamberlain’s jazzy, pounding drum work is particularly highlighted. For a gripping seven minutes, the album descends into its own world of irresistible darkness to reach an electrifying climax.

As if “Ruby” wasn’t dynamic enough already, it seems to start fading out in the last minute until it fades into… an unexpectedly quiet, calm ending that sounds lifted from a completely different song. At first listen one would question the purpose of this moment, but somehow, despite the contrast to what came before, it feels completely right. It brings to mind one of the most personal memories I have of listening to this album, which I experienced while this moment was playing. I’d rather not mention it…

Anyways, the song is a masterpiece. And that odd coda happens to lead quite nicely into “Stumbleine”, the album’s gentlest and most intimate track, played only on an acoustic guitar. Billy’s hushed vocals and delicate picking convey a romantic nighttime atmosphere that ends up dominating the rest of the disc, hence the name Twilight to Starlight.

But not before the big mother of a song “X.Y.U.” charges in and threatens to throw the whole thing off the rails. Another lengthy epic, this time 7 minutes long, it’s not unlike the out-of-control jam “Silverfuck” from Siamese Dream, except with brutally straightforward fury in place of that track’s wildly irregular dynamics. The vocals and lyrics are completely bizarre; Billy hisses, grunts and screams incoherently for nearly the whole time, like the singing equivalent of a Nicolas Cage performance. Why does he launch into a demented riff on “Mary Had a Little Lamb” during the first breakdown? When will this lunacy end? What is even happening??

“AND IN THE EYES OF A JACKAL I SAY GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

Well. Thank goodness the rest of the album chills out, and I mean really chills out. Clearly, there’s no better way to follow that musical firestorm than with “We Only Come Out at Night”, a tongue-in-cheek campfire song for the outsider in us all, played on a zither of all things (look it up, it’s a real instrument). “Beautiful” is more unusual still, featuring looping electronic sounds and duet vocals from bass guitarist D’arcy Wretzky. Her sweet performance and the sensual arrangement do a better job of capturing teenage romantic longing than the actual songwriting does, and the track feels shallow as a result. Still, even though Billy himself mentioned this reservation in the liner notes for Mellon Collie’s reissue (which are great, by the way), I think there’s something revealing and oddly touching about the superficial expression behind “Beautiful”. Awkward, faded beauty is still beauty after all.

“Lily (My One and Only)” is a lighthearted detour, clearly informed by The Beatles’ self-titled album. It’s pretty slight, but it adds still greater variety to the album as a whole. The lyrics, funnily enough, are about a young Billy spying on a former crush through a window! “By Starlight” features a jaw-dropping fade-in, surely the album’s most gorgeous moment in terms of pure production. The rest of it, jazzy and downcast, is nearly as stunning in its heavenly atmosphere. It’s the last moment of dark romanticism in a double album full of just that, not to mention one of the best. Finally, James Iha delivers the closing sentiment with another Beatles tribute, “Farewell and Goodnight”. The odd but sweet lyrics are sung in turns by all four band members (even Jimmy!) before they sing the final refrains together in a stirring display of unity. There was simply no better way to close this epic journey than with this very literal lullaby, a moment so comforting and kind as to make you feel you’ll never need to hear anything else in your life.

Oh, and it ends with a reprise of the title track, bringing everything full circle. Pretty cool, right?

So… Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I think I’ve said enough. And yet I feel like I could keep going forever, such is its greatness and sentimental value. If I had been 16 going on 17 in 1995, a year when double albums, ambition and Beatles tributes were practically uncool, I’m sure I would’ve embraced it just as much as I did in 2012. Its appeal is timeless and utterly sincere, presenting a little universe of brilliant tunes and sonic wonders for anyone willing or desperate to get lost in it.

And boy, does writing about it bring back a lot of feelings and memories. Even though I didn’t dwell so much on those things, I avoided that knowing the album and its songs could represent different, equally special experiences for other people blessed with them. For me, it was the Christmas guitar concert of 2013… the cheerleader I could never approach… grad night… the drama of my senior year. Through it all, the Smashing Pumpkins were there when no other band was, just as they always will be for me and everyone else who wants their own small, personal moments like those to feel truly special.

Sure, plenty of other artists have this goal in mind. Then again, if the Pumpkins weren’t the cultural outsiders they always have been, there would probably be more double-length masterworks that dare to be ambitious, inspiring, ridiculous, embarrassing and awesome all at once. It’s safe to say that the band may never be in higher form or aspire to such a great purpose again, but I’m glad they reached their peak for just long enough to make their lasting statement, because it will always hold a special place in my life. And so…

To Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky and Jimmy Chamberlain, along with the future members who have kept the Smashing Pumpkins as they are…

Thanks, I guess.

“Believe in me as I believe in you… Tonight.”

(Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is a really special album, for Danny, myself, and many others, and so we associate many memories with it. Danny said his, but I, RADDman, will share a few of my own real quick.

I watched our other brother and his band stun a crowd with a performance of “1979” in a dimly-lit high school cafeteria.

“Tonight, Tonight” reminds me of standing on the cliffs of Tintagel in Cornwall, feeling the wind and ancient energy of the place and believing I could do anything.

And sometimes, I get in foul moods where overdramatic lines like “I know the silence of the world” resonate fully.

Now that Danny has given us all this lengthy and lovely welcome back present, regular posts for Space Cadet Glow will commence once more starting Friday, November 13. In the meantime, even though this one’s from Side 1 again, have some “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”)

Talking Over the Music – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: 20th Anniversary Tribute, Pt. 1

(Hey, everybody! Look, we’re back. Well, by “we,” I mean that I am back, and my brother Danny is here with his first post for the blog. It’s part of his latest project, a compendium of 26 album reviews, with one artist/group for every letter of the alphabet. While he knows it’s not called the SBC’s for a reason, he’s kicking it off with the Smashing Pumpkins and their double-stuffed masterpiece Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, just in time for the album’s twentieth anniversary today! In honor of its double-album status, the review is split into two parts, with part two coming tomorrow. So without further ado, happy 20th, Ms. Collie, and heeeeere’s Danny!)

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Review by Danny

“I fear that I am ordinary, Just like everyone…”

            Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is not the best album ever recorded. It isn’t even the best album the Smashing Pumpkins ever recorded. However, it could very well be the one for which I can say more than any other, whether it is praise, analysis, criticism or purely overjoyed ramblings about how awesome it is (and I won’t be able to say it all now). Whereas the band’s previous work Siamese Dream is simply perfect in my opinion, Mellon Collie stands as much more than that, and it decidedly shaped my life in ways few other albums or songs have. More specifically, it helped me embrace my teenage years and the experiences it brought to me. It was the soundtrack of a moment, just as it was for many wistful teenagers of the 1990s, and the memories I have attached to it are timeless.

            Even from an objective point of view, it is absolutely amazing. Within its double-length span, the Smashing Pumpkins embodied the teen state of mind through their boldest, most diverse music ever. And there is a lot of it: ever the outsiders, they proudly embraced excess and ambition in a musical era desperately short of both. The sheer quantity and quality of music testify to a band at the height of its powers, having just found the elusive sweet spot between artfulness and mass appeal. And what better point could there have been to bless the world with their teen-dream theatrics than 1995? The halfway marker for the postmodern decade… my birth year. I was born for it.

            But it’s not just about me. Looking from a broader perspective, Mellon Collie is one of many examples of coming-of-age fiction to be found in cultures all around. Whether they have been passed down orally for thousands of years, read to children from books or directed by John Hughes, they seem to universally acknowledge the personal significance and tentative excitement of that gray period between childhood and adulthood. From the perspective of American history, though, our culture didn’t fully turn its attention to its impressionable youth until around the 1950s, when the post-WWII kids grew up and quickly became the biggest audience for mass media, including, of course, popular music. From that point on, this hip new culture followed a fascinating path through many subversive movements that came and went, from Beatlemania to progressive rock to alternative rock to hip-hop.

            Mellon Collie was probably the logical conclusion of teenage culture as we knew it in the 1990s. It’s huge in scale, adventurous, rich with detail, vaguely conceptual (?), alternative by design and very, very generous. And it panders… a lot… But I would argue that it’s never too obvious or insincere in wooing impressionable listeners. In fact, with all its sheer attention to craft and creative depth, it’s among a very narrow line of albums that dares to capture the complete mindset its young audience may share, in all its awkward glory. It’s for the kids who respected Nirvana and the hip alternative-rock movement they inspired, but felt left out just for wanting something that truly connected to them. And while that’s not to say others didn’t find comfort in the music of other contemporary bands, it’s safe to say only the Pumpkins made a point of uniting people around their ideals. They dared to provide a voice that not only rallied them together but also spoke sincerely and positively on their behalf. The results of this brave gesture are incredibly rewarding to this day.

Right from the beginning, with a cinematic piano introduction putting on all the airs, you know you’re in for a grand, sweeping journey. You aren’t just listening to a lovely, perfectly ornamented opening song of an album, but taking the thrilling first steps into an expansive fantasy world. Maybe my description is coming off as pretty overblown and corny, but not when the piece ends and the opening orchestral sweeps of “Tonight, Tonight” kick in. Every time this song comes on, I feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. It’s the entire album’s defiant romanticism and ideals rolled into a four-minute mission statement, in which the mission is just to believe, at least for a couple of blissful hours, that anything you feel can move the heavens. Billy Corgan’s raspy voice never sounded more rousing or assuring, and the collective band performance, backed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, thunders with passion. How else can you react but to wonder if this could be the only album you’ll ever need?

Also, the song has the best music video of all time. Period.

The first disc actually manages the seemingly impossible task of carrying this momentum throughout. “Jellybelly”, the tightly wound pop-metal firework that follows, somehow alternates effortlessly between outrageous angst and exhilaration; it stands alongside the first two tracks to form one of the most exciting stretches of music I’ve ever heard. “Zero” definitely leans toward the angsty side, with particularly infamous lyrics, but it’s still great.

I guess this would be a good time to bring up the lyrics, which are often mentioned as the album’s biggest flaw. There’s no dancing around the fact that, especially compared to those on Siamese Dream, they can be over-the-top and inane. Whereas the songs on that album carefully punctuated Corgan’s impressionistic words with lines of powerful directness, here you get gems like, “I’m in love with my sadness,” and “A secret star that cannot shine” (ugh), and “Love is suuuiciiiiide!” not to mention a few entirely bizarre sections on “An Ode to No One” and “X.Y.U.”, among other tracks. Still, isn’t that part of the point? In what other way would a teen express his/her puffed-up emotions than through awkward, on-the-nose wannabe poetry? They’re definitely more intentionally broad and obvious than anything else Corgan has written before or since, but that’s just the way Mellon Collie communicates its messages.

And if you can stomach this lyrical approach, you’re in for an amazing ride, through the bouncy “Here Is No Why” to the timelessly angry “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and into darker, more subdued territory on the somber “To Forgive”. From then on it’s a musical grab bag, in which emotional extremes like the furious rant of sound “An Ode to No One”, the superficial lust anthem “Love” and the harp-driven romantic fantasy “Cupid de Locke” make perfect sense, especially when sequenced in a row. The latter has perhaps the strangest, most disembodied arrangement in the band’s catalog. “Galapogos” (I know it’s misspelled) is a gorgeous, understated ballad. I can’t imagine that “Muzzle” wasn’t released as a proper single, because it’s simply awesome, in a word; it rocks like a heavier, poppier “Tonight, Tonight” and has an incredibly satisfying finale.

“Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is a mini-masterpiece in itself. It winds through several different sections and dynamic shifts across its enormous length, showcasing the amazing production and the band’s newfound unity as performers. The lyrics, bringing to mind fantastic imagery like majestic ships and nautical adventure, collide with the digitally polished alt-rock backing to form what is essentially a pop version of steampunk, which is actually as cool as it sounds. The climax is one of the album’s finest, most accomplished moments.

Finally, to top off disc one, the band brings in an unexpected surprise in the form of a contribution from James Iha, the band’s second guitarist, “Take Me Down”. Iha’s personality as a songwriter is completely different from that of Corgan; this soothing country-esque ballad sounds like he wrote it half-awake, hoping to calm the listener down after all the previous excitement, and it works wonders. There couldn’t have been any better way to close off the first half of this epic journey.

I know I’ve already written volumes about how great and important Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is, but there’s still a lot more to say, and I’ll do the favor of saving the rest for the next part. If you haven’t gotten tired of me, stay tuned.

(RADDman here. Besides “Tonight, Tonight,” this is my favorite song. My brother definitely has a talent for description, but “incredibly satisfying” doesn’t do it justice. Singing along to it makes me feel so damn good and just so alive, no matter what mood I’m in. “And I know the silence of the world!”)

Shouting at the Screen – Jurassic World: First Reactions

Previously, on “Shouting at the Screen – Tribute to Jurassic Park,” I wrote about being on the verge of watching Jurassic World:

Guys. I’ve waited fourteen years for this. I’ve spent two-thirds of my life waiting for a film that, at many points, looked like it   would never happen. Now it’s finally upon us, and I can almost guarantee that no one you know is more excited than I am.

After that strenuous wait, it finally came: the night of Thursday, June 11, 2015. Entering a local movie theater, with a little over an hour to spare before a 10:40 showing, were a group of twelve excited teenagers – my brothers, plenty of friends, and myself (in my Jurassic Park tee).

Which, as those who have  seen the movie know, is taboo if you work there.

Which, as those who have seen the movie know, is taboo if you work there.

Despite an at-first jarring change of scheduling (some of us had to work early in the morning and theaters don’t really bother with pure midnight premieres), the night went off to a great start. Friends who hadn’t seen each other in a very long time cheered upon meeting again, and after learning that the showtimes we intended to see was already sold out, we quickly found an only slightly later screening at a different (and generally cheaper) theater. And once we finally got there, the hour passed quickly and we secured almost a full row for ourselves with the best seats in the house. The atmosphere was kinetic – you could feel the hype, the stirring and swelling of the crowd’s mood.

Despite what I wrote in my previous post, I tried not to get sucked into that very buzz. Even the most excellent films can be ruined by overly high expectations, and I was not about to let a film for which I’ve been unusually patient fall into that black hole. “Besides,” I figured, “it’s a Jurassic Park sequel. How good could that be?” But once the lights dimmed, the twenty minutes of trailers crawled past, and that familiar music started, I found myself perched at the edge …

Oh yeah. The movie was awesome.

And I never doubted that it would be ... (besides that early script with the raptor mercenary baloney)

And I never doubted that it would be. (… Besides that early script with the raptor mercenary baloney)

The first thing I would talk about is the climax, but that ending must be seen to be believed, so I won’t talk about it. Instead I’ll start by saying I was genuinely ecstatic during the build-up to a full view of the park, featuring that classic John Williams theme, because at long last we got to see John Hammond’s vision finally come to life. Yes, the first movie was all about why that vision could never work out, but that just adds a layer of intrigue to seeing it happen – even if it’s slightly perverse, like watching a forest fire and knowing you can do nothing about it. And yes, we know it’s doomed, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Besides, just look at the place! Instead of taking a rail-guided Jeep tour through different paddocks in the jungle, guests can ride next to sauropods and stegosaurs in giant glass ball things called Gyrospheres. The Jurassic Park Visitor Center was replaced with a state-of-the-art Innovation Center, featuring moving hologram creatures and a digging site for little ones. Speaking of which, the Gentle Giants Petting Zoo is the cutest thing ever you can ride a baby Triceratops and hug a baby Apatosaurus why isn’t this real I don’t care if Velociraptors eat me alive as long as I can live out my childhood dreams like this cute.

cretaceous cruise

But anyone who’s been to Islands of Adventure knows this one is a bad idea.

It’s not just the park itself that’s thrilling: the movie was a lot more engaging than I expected. For starters, it was actually a bit scary. All we knew about the main monster going in was that it was a big meat-eater like the T. rex and that it was going to escape and wreak havoc, both par for the course in this film series. But as the movie goes on and we find out more and more about the Indominus rex, it gets more disturbing. This monster of a dinosaur, created in the lab specifically to be threatening, is a psychotic killing machine with a slew of hidden tricks. My youngest brother said he wouldn’t have been surprised if it sprouted wings and took off with the Pteranodons.

Oh yeah, those guys! Remember Jurassic Park III, when we first see those rats with wings attack? In that one, it was only one rat with wings. As you could see in the trailers, there’s hundreds of them, and they swarm the guests! What was not clear in the trailer was that it wasn’t just the regular Pteranodons, who were freaky enough but at least didn’t have nasty pointed teeth: there’s also Dimorphodons, which do. So you can either get picked up and tossed around by giant flying lizards or get your face bitten off by the same thing, except smaller and with freaking dinosaur heads. The actual attack scene is shocking, especially because it has the most egregiously brutal death in the movie.

Some parts are thrilling in a different way, a more “wow” kind of way. The scene where Chris Pratt’s character, Owen Grady (how did I go this long without mentioning you?), is first shown training the Velociraptors is so cool. Ever since 1993 we’ve known that species as the smartest, fastest, most vicious monsters on the island. Here we see a guy freaking tame them (kinda). He tells them to lift their heads up, and they lift their heads up! And they just get cooler as the movie continues.

Well, not quite like this.

Well, not quite like this, but you get the idea.

But my favorite “wow” moment, and my favorite scene (besides the climax, seriously, oh my god) was when Zach and Gray, the token children, find a deserted building in the jungles of the park’s restricted area. Having learned nothing from the last time they went somewhere in the park that they weren’t supposed to go (hint: they’re not in a Gyrosphere anymore), they enter and see a spacious room with staircases on the sides. Zach picks up a banner from the floor that reads … “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.”

jp banner

Chills.

They found the Visitor Center. They left Jurassic World and rediscovered Jurassic Park. And for all of us watching, this moment and the whole scene are nostalgically breathtaking.

This kind of reverence for the first film shows that Colin Trevorrow is a total Jurassic Park geek and clearly giddy to be involved in this project. Besides being ridiculously entertaining, his script (co-written with writing partner Derek Connolly) is overflowing with callbacks and nods to the previous films. It’s only been three days and massive articles listing all of them have already been compiled, but I’d just like to name a few personal favorites:

  • The tributes to both the late Richard Attenborough, CBE (a lovely gold statue of his character John Hammond stands in front of the Hammond Creation Lab) and the late special effects wizard Stan Winston (there’s a “Winston’s Cafe” in the boardwalk area)
  • In the beginning, Zach and Gray’s mom tells them to push the green button on their phone when they see it. In the first movie, as Hammond guides Dr. Ellie Sattler into restarting the power, he tells her something like, “Overhead there should be a green button. Push it.” How freaking obscure.
  • The scene with the dying Apatosaurus, a genuinely saddening scene that darkly parallels the introduction of the Brachiosaurus in the first one
  • It’s part of the climax so I can’t say much, but it’s clear where Trevorrow stands on the T. rex vs. Spinosaurus “debate”
That's how you know a true fan.

That’s how you know a true fan: taking this one-minute fight scene way too personally!

Just to prove that I’m not just a corporate stooge paid by Universal Studios to shill Jurassic World (meaning this whole blog was just an overly elaborate scam to convince its few readers to see a film that everyone was already going to see), I will tell you that this movie was not entirely great.

There was this one scene where Claire Dearing (is that her last name?!), Bryce Dallas Howard’s character and the aunt of the token kids, talks with their mother (who spends almost the entire movie weeping) about how she has to spend the day with her nephews. The mother tells Claire that she’ll know the importance of it when she has her own kids. Claire says she’ll never have kids, and her mother has the gall to tell her that yes she will someday. Lady, if Claire doesn’t want kids, she doesn’t want kids. The implication that every woman has a maternal instinct that will push them to have children is, well, prehistoric. And I get that her character arc is about learning to care, both for the dinosaurs in the park and her nephews, but it still bothers me that they had to include that.

Besides that nitpick, I fully accept that this movie is not as good as the first Jurassic Park. It really is yet another bloated, CG-heavy, summer blockbuster full of shameless product placement made solely so Universal could make tons of money off the JP name in this age of sequels and franchising. Every reviewer and critic saying this is so bold and original.

However, just how many movies can be as good as Jurassic Park? Okay, that’s not the best excuse in the world, but it’s clear that Trevorrow and the cast and crew didn’t half-bake this film when they so easily could have coasted on the brand name alone. It’s certainly not Jurassic Park III: these people cared about the property and did their best. It’s got awesome scenes, amazing dinosaur action, Chris Pratt’s magic touch, fun writing, fun acting, and overall it’s just enormously satisfying – at least for a fan like me.

Maybe that’s not a professional opinion. Maybe it is sketchy that the first film’s heroes are scientists and the heroes of this one are a grizzled ex-Navy man, a corporate lackey, and a couple of tourists, as the New York Times points out. Maybe it is a cheap cash-in that’s paid off tremendously. But I entered the movie theater as an eager twenty-year-old and left feeling like I was seven and spoiled, and that’s what matters to me. Those fourteen years of waiting paid off – for me, the people who watched it with me on opening night, the thousands worldwide who gave a total $500 million to the film’s box office winnings in the biggest opening weekend of all time, and, of course, to Universal. Roll around in your money, you greedy punks, you earned it.

Sincerely, RADDman

P.S. A quick public service announcement to the people who have sent snaps on SnapChat of the final fight in this movie: don’t.

Shouting at the Screen – Tribute to Jurassic Park

Man, isn’t Jurassic Park awesome?

jp lake

jp trex

ian malcolm

Obviously.

Right now it’s really hard to find the right thing to even talk about first. There’s so much to this film, a cultural giant that has loomed over our world like that first beautiful CG Brachiosaurus since it exploded on the big screen exactly 22 years ago today. I was born the year after, so I’ve never known a world without this movie, and I suspect the same goes for many of you. What should I say first, on this 22nd anniversary, to honor a movie that not only excited the world, but strongly affected my own life with all the times I saw it as a kid?

Well, I suppose you should first know that for a long time I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I was that one kid in your elementary classes who knew everything about them: the different types, where and how they lived, and even how to properly pronounce/spell names like Micropachycephalosaurus. I read every book and, later, every website I could find that’d teach me even a tiny tidbit of trivia. More importantly for this post, I watched every movie I could get my puny hands on, from BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs to Disney’s Dinosaur to all those Land Before Time sequels (Jesus Christ, they’re making number fourteen right now?!).

So naturally, when my parents decided to ignore the PG-13 rule and showed me the film at a ridiculously young age (first grade? Kindergarten? Earlier?!), I gushed over it. Sure, it was scary, but more than anything I was just so thrilled to see these people interacting with what really felt like real dinosaurs! That may go completely against the point of the film, but that didn’t matter. I adored it.

Recently, I rewatched it with my brothers and some friends, and it’s impressive how well it holds up. The scene with the Brachiosaurus is as captivating as ever, the build-up and reveal of the Tyrannosaurus rex remains one of the most thrilling in the history of monster movies, and those goddamn raptors still provide actually effective jump scares. Even in the visuals department, the 1993 CG doesn’t look prehistoric. Heck, it’s aged far better than most of the computer effects-heavy genre flicks that came in its wake. And man, just listen to that luscious, triumphant John Williams soundtrack!

All these years and viewings later, we can still enjoy every moment, from the beginning when a black guy dies first to the end when they fly the wrong way off the island.

“Mr. Spielberg, the sun sets in the west. If this island is west of the mainla-” “Shut up, it’s beautiful.”

Of course, the film is not perfect. People like to hate on Tim and Lex, and it’s not that hard to see why. They can be a load at times, especially when they almost get themselves killed through extraordinary stupidity when the T. rex first shows up and Ian Malcolm breaks a leg trying to save them. It doesn’t help that Lex is one of those ’90s teen edgelords (ooh, she’s a “hacker” and a vegetarian!) and Tim is an overbearing know-it-all. But I can’t help liking them, and not just because I’m charmed by the subplot where Dr. Alan Grant learns to deal with kids.

Think of which audience their inclusion was intended for: probably kids! And when I first saw this movie, I was a kid, like them! Heck, I was Tim! I was the dinosaur geek who would be in awe at the presence of a famous paleontologist like Dr. Grant, and I would have asked him a million questions too, and I would have screamed and needed saving when the T. rex broke through the fence. Whether critics and older viewers find them annoying or not, Tim and Lex weren’t meant for them. They were meant for all the young fans watching, including me.

That said, this is still one of the movie's funniest moments.

That said, this is still one of the movie’s funniest moments.

I saw this film at an impressionable age, and it affected me big-time. I could go on with all the memories I have about being “The Dinosaur Boy,” but those are for another time (when I’m dead and can’t feel embarrassed by my past anymore). These are some memories specifically related to this movie:

  • I was born a year after the first film and I was too young to be aware of The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s release, but I still vividly remember seeing a Miami billboard advertising Jurassic Park III for the first time. Six-year-old me stood up in the car and cheered. I loved the movie (I was six, okay?), but all the other first-graders and I knew who the real winner of the T. rex and Spinosaurus fight would be.
  • A couple of years later I achieved what I thought was impossible: I visited Jurassic Park! Islands of Adventure became the coolest place on Earth. I walked through the iconic gate, freaked out in the River Adventure, and got to pet a dinosaur in the Triceratops Encounter (a sadly discontinued attraction). The place still gives me chills, even if I’m apparently too big to do half the things there.
  • This old Jurassic Park Institute website, tragically defunct now, used to be one of my favorite websites for dinosaur knowledge and news (another was Enchanted Learning, wonderful for kids). It had an extensive “Dinopedia,” Dino News, a Dino of the Day, and all kinds of neat info. I used to compile dinosaur facts, jokes, and trivia in my own, totally unlicensed Jurassic Park Institute newsletters, which I taped around the house each week. Just a nine-year-old’s cute arts-and-crafts stuff.

But here’s the biggest impact that the film had on me:

Stego

This is some kind of fuzzy Stegosaurus toy made for the release of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It was a present for my third birthday from a tia who probably scanned a Target shelf full of JP merch and said, “Eh, this’ll keep him quiet.” On the very day I got him, a door was accidentally shut on its tail, lopping it off, and I think that was when he developed a completely unique identity: “Stego.”

I feel that every kid growing up has something like Linus’s security blanket from Peanuts or Calvin’s stuffed tiger Hobbes in, um, Calvin and Hobbes. For my two brothers and I, Stego filled that role and became the fourth brother. I took him everywhere, from school to the movies to vacations all over the Americas. I talked with him about any problems I had and he regaled me with tales of life in dinosaur times. I even taught him how to read using Dr. Seuss books!

(… But he was scared of The Cat in the Hat because we once lost him at a Barnes and Noble and he was discovered reading the same page over and over while worrying if he’d never see us again. Yeah, Stego taught me much about responsibility.)

He may have been created as merchandise to encourage children to watch an age-inappropriate blockbuster sequel, but he became one of my best friends growing up. He may have three disembodied legs in a shelf somewhere around the house (they resist all superglue) and much of his fuzz is gone, but that sure isn’t because I didn’t love him. He may not accompany me on all my adventures or speak to me as he once did, but Stego will always hold a special place in my heart and my memories.

So Stego, this post is as much a tribute to you as it is to the series that brought you into being. Thanks for being an awesome friend for all these years. My brothers and I still love you, and you’re totally coming with us to Jurassic World.

And even though much of the paint on his face is gone, he still always bears a smile.

And even though much of the paint on his face is gone, he still always bears a warm, welcoming smile.

On that note, you may have thought that there was more to my writing about Jurassic Park than its 22nd anniversary and a heap of nostalgia. Yes, we are on the eve of the release of Jurassic World, but I’m not writing this just because I’m excited for the movie. I’m writing this because this is the culmination of fourteen years of eager anticipation.

What many people don’t realize is that the fourth Jurassic Park has been in the works for fourteen years. Sure, it pales in comparison to the 65 million years it apparently took to make the first one, but this means more to me because I was there for all of it. I was there in 2002, a year after the third film’s release, when Spielberg officially announced it was happening and he’d serve as executive producer. I was there when Ain’t It Cool News leaked a draft of John Sayles’s script, which involved five genetically-enhanced Deinonychus, each named for a hero from Greek mythology, getting trained for rescue missions. I was there when they said that script was scrapped because … just reread that.

I was there when Richard Attenborough died, preventing John Hammond from appearing in the film, and when the original books’ author Michael Crichton died, causing the filmmakers to consider calling it quits out of respect. I was there every time Sam Neill flip-flopped about playing Dr. Grant again. I was there every time a new screenwriter was announced and dismissed, every time someone involved said that the script was being rewritten, and every time the film fell further and further into development hell.

Eleven years passed since that first announcement. In all that time I went through elementary school, survived middle school, and graduated from high school. I made and lost friends and girlfriends, hilariously stumbled through puberty, developed a passion for writing, studied abroad and lived in London, and basically had a life (or at least the childhood and teenhood portions of it). So it’s not like my life was swallowed by an obsession with this movie. However, in that decade-long span, I would check up on its progress (or lack thereof) every several months or so. It wasn’t always at the front of my mind, but it was never too far.

My patience paid off in 2013, when they finally landed a director in Colin Trevorrow, who then co-rewrote with writing partner Derek Connolly a script by the team that wrote Rise of the Planet of the Apes. After all that time, some people were not convinced that a horribly-delayed fourth film for a series with only one popular film would be any good. Then they got some actor I’d never heard of two years before, yet another Chris in Hollywood, and now everyone’s hyped. And here we all are now.

My first reaction to this casting

My first reaction to this casting

Guys. I’ve waited fourteen years for this. I’ve spent two-thirds of my life waiting for a film that, at many points, looked like it would never happen. Now it’s finally upon us, and I can almost guarantee that no one you know is more excited than I am. So get on your merchandised graphic tee, strike up the “Weird Al” Yankovic, and hold onto your butts!

Sincerely,

RADDman (formerly the Dinosaur Boy)

Writing on the Pages – The Maze Runner #03: Chapters 6-9

Hey, you! Before I go on with The Maze Runner, I’d first like to thank The Chosen One for letting me write something for his aptly-named blog Total Time Waste. Hopefully I’ll get to do more collaborations, both with my new friend here and with other people, and hopefully those collaborations won’t have to do with dreams about Jaden Smith screaming.

On that note, I’d also like to advertise a new blog by my friend sf1nley, Reading Disorder, which will also feature reviews of literature and anime. Welcome to the club, Sam! Can’t wait to read your stuff and do some posts together!

But enough about other people, let’s go back to me and my opinions.

CHAPTER 6

It was Newt – the guy who seemed to be second in command; the air reeked of his morning breath.

Wait a sec. Each time this guy’s name came up in the text I kept thinking of the kid from Aliens, but … wasn’t this that cute British kid in the movie?

Well, he is!

Well, he is!

Yes! I remember you now! You were cool in the film, stay cool in the book!

“When you bloody need to know, you’ll know, Greenie.”

I recently learned that “bloody” is apparently the British English equivalent of “goddamn,” which makes it a bit odd that British characters in American productions casually throw the word around. In Hollywood movies it’s a little rude to ask someone to pass the goddamn mustard, but if you ask them to pass the bloody mustard while effecting an English accent, it’s okay. I get that it emphasizes Newt’s seriousness while he shows Thomas, from the safety of some watchtower, what comes out at night in the Maze. I just wonder if our born-and-raised-in-Georgia author is aware of this linguistic fact.

Funny, he finally uses an actual swear word in the text and he probably didn’t know it. Gotcha!

A large, bulbous creature the size of a cow but with no distinct shape twisted and seethed along the ground in the corridor outside. … It was too dark to make out clearly, but odd lights flashed … revealing blurs of silver spikes and glistening flesh. Wicked instrument-tipped appendages protruded from its body like arms: a saw blade, a set of shears, long rods whose purpose could only be guessed.

This description of the Grievers does not seem to precisely match its portrayal in the films, where it was just some giant metal spider thing.

griever film

I can only wonder how people who read the book imagined them … or I can just look up fanart!

griever fanart

No offense to Ben’s Blog, where this original fanart comes from, but I prefer the spider.

His desire to become a Runner had taken a major blow. But he had to do it. Somehow he knew he had to do it.

The narrative requires it!

How could a maze, with walls so massive and tall, be so big that dozens of kids hadn’t been able to solve it after who knew how long trying? How could such a structure exist? And more importantly, why? What could possibly be the purpose of such a thing? Why were they all there? How long had they been there?

Regardless of what one thinks of the book, it must be said that this is an awesome premise and a fascinating mystery. All that remains to be seen, after the set-up convinces us to open the book, is if the writing and characters are compelling enough that we want to find out, and that we want them to find out with us. So far, I believe so.

“Ain’t you lookin’ fresh?” Alby said. “Get a nice view out the window this morning?

… “Enough to make me want to learn about this place,” he said …

My thoughts exactly.

CHAPTER 7

Alby is showing Thomas around the Glade, starting with the first thing Thomas ever saw there.

“This here’s the Box. Once a month, we get a Newbie like you, never fails.”

Wait a sec, let me check something real quick. In Chapter 2, Dashner writes, “There had to be at least fifty of them …” If new people come once a month, that means the Glade gets twelve Greenbeans a year, and if there are at the bare minimum fifty, then this maze thing has been going on for more than four years by the time Thomas came in. And considering that there’s a graveyard, meaning quite a few people have died here, then the number increases to six, maybe seven, and who knows, maybe even longer! There weren’t nearly that many boys in the Glade in the movie, probably for the sake of convenient story streamlining. So what the heck is going on?

He pointed at the pitiful living quarters. “Homestead – stupid place is twice as big than when the first of us got here because we keep addin’ to it when they send us wood and klunk.”

Heh, they send you wood and what? Or is “and klunk” some silly PG-13 equivalent of the term “and shit” as emphasis, as in, “Yes, my mix tape has music and shit”? Nah, he could’ve easily used the phrase “and stuff” if he meant that, so I’ll just assume they live in a literal craphouse.

So Alby’s just aggressively showing him around their community’s four sections: the Gardens, where they farm crops and raise livestock; the Blood House, where they slaughter said livestock (and possibly people? Must keep that question in mind); the Homestead, the aforementioned dung building; and the Deadheads, the graveyard, of which Alby significantly says little until Thomas presses him.

“Two years, I’ve been here. Ain’t none been here longer. The few before me are already dead.”

Oh man, that “seven years” hypothesis just got a whole lot darker …

Or maybe they started out with thirty people or something and it’s only been about a few years? Yeah, didn’t think of that until now.

[Alby] was cut off by a booming, ringing alarm …

“Alby! What’s going on?”

“The Box, shuck-face, the Box!” was all Alby said before he set off for the middle of the Glade at a brisk pace that almost looked to Thomas like panic.

Man, this book moves at a brisk pace. In the movie it took several days for this to happen, and Thomas and the audience were given time to take in everything. At this point in the book, Thomas just came in yesterday!

CHAPTER 8

… Thomas was startled to realize he’d arrived just yesterday. Yesterday? he thought. Was that really just yesterday?

Yes, I just said that! Stop being more clever than me, book!

So the entire Glade is gathered around the box, waiting for the imminent and utterly unexpected arrival of a new Greenbean. How is Thomas handling this high-stress situation?

“Chuck, never wink at me again.”

He meets up with Chuck, who makes it a point to explicitly tell the audience that they are “buddies now.” Who needs to take time organically developing a relationship between characters when they can just nudge each other and have Thomas ponder about the usefulness of a friend in the Glade?

“Hey, look.” Chuck stopped and pointed to someone in the crowd. It was Gally, staring dead at them.

“Shuck it,” Chuck said. “He does not like you, man.”

“Yeah,” Thomas muttered. “Figured it out already.”

Yeah, figured it o- Darn it, book! Anyway, on the note of making character relationships obvious, here comes Gally, serving as filler while the Box takes a whole thirty minutes to come up.

Once the box finally comes up, Alby and Newt investigate and fall into bewilderment. At first it was only crazy because there were two Newbies in two days, but this surprise is almost too much for the seasoned leaders to comprehend at first. What could be so stunning and confusing?

“It’s a girl.”

AH! FEMALE REPRESENTATION!

And the boys react exactly as you’d expect:

“A girl?”

“I got dibs!”

“What’s she look like?”

Ah, teenage boys. You’re so predictable.

“You know what’s predictable? Deez nuts.” “OOOOOH!”

Newt silences the bunch by telling them he thinks she’s dead, and they drag the unmoving body out of the box. Everyone looks at Thomas, suspecting he killed her or something, and Alby, who reasonably finds the entire affair suspicious, rather unreasonably accuses Thomas of knowing her. Meanwhile, Dashner lovingly describes how pretty – pardon, “beautiful” – this sixteen-year-old girl is, taking care to point out her number one feature is her skin color: “pale, white as pearls.”

… The girl shot up into a sitting position. … Alby cried out and fell backward. Newt gasped and jumped up, stumbling away from her. …

Burning blue eyes darted back and forth as she took deep breaths. Her pink lips trembled as she mumbled something over and over, indecipherable. Then she spoke one sentence – her voice hollow and haunted, but clear.

Oh man, now that that ridiculous crap is over, I am stressed and hyped. She’s not dead, the freaking leaders of the club are spooked, Dashner’s writing gets vivid again, and all after so much has already happened in the past five pages, what could she possibly say?!

Everything is going to change.”

Come on, book, we talked about this already! This cliche is the important thing she had to scream to the world? This “dark and stormy night”-level overused trope is the five-word mantra that’s gonna shake up the whole thing?! With this and the silliness with Chuck and Alby in this chapter, can’t the author realize that show is always more effective than tell and –

Clutched in her hand was a wadded piece of paper.

… Scrawled across the paper in thick black letters were five words:

She’s the last one.

Ever.

Oh.

Um.

kermit panic

CHAPTER 9

So recap: the day after Thomas arrived, another person comes in the Box, which is highly unusual and, to some, even suspicious. It gets even stranger when it turns out to be a girl, and it gets scarier when a note in her hand reveals that she is the last person they’ll ever get in the Glade. After a moment of shocked silence from the boys (and Alby calling for “med-jacks,” meaning doctors), what’s the first thing they say?

“Who said Clint had first shot at her?” someone yelled from the crowd. There were several barks of laughter. “I’m next!”

As uneasy as I am, this is probably realistic.

“You know what’s realistic? Deez nuts!” “HOHO, IT MAKES A COMEBACK!”

At least Thomas feels “sick” from their reaction and Alby threatens banishment to anyone who touches her (other than the med-jacks hauling her away, of course).

Thomas’s gut clenched. He knew that he and the girl were connected somehow. They’d come a day apart, she seemed familiar, he had a consuming urge to become a Runner despite learning so many terrible things. … What did it all mean?

Wait, what does wanting to be a Runner have to do with the girl? Is he the only boy in the gang who wants to run away from her?

Alright, let’s conclude this with some brief initial thoughts on Chuck. In Chapter 8 he meets up with Thomas and lightens the mood with some comedy, and in Chapter 9 he playfully calls Thomas a psycho and takes him to get some food. He’s all jokes, which even includes scaring people in the john, and Thomas sees him as the one friend he’s made so far.

Thing is, he’s still really sketchy.

“This is crazy. How can this be for real? Somebody sent us here. Somebody evil.”

Chuck paused. “Quit complaining. Just accept it and don’t think about it.”

Note the pause. Thomas asks the really big questions and even dares to say their placement there was by someone “evil,” and Chuck had to stop to think before using the ol’ “don’t think about it” misdirection. You know, because it always shuts up people who ask a lot of questions.

Shockingly, Thomas asks something else, “one of the million questions bouncing through his brain.”

“So where does the electricity come from?”

“Who cares? I’ll take it.”

What a surprise, Thomas thought. No answer.

This goes on for almost three pages. Thomas asks how he can become a Runner, and Chuck says, “Not that again” and even “roll[s] his eyes dramatically, leaving no doubt as to how stupid an idea he thought that would be.” Thomas ponders if they’re criminals with wiped memories and they’ve been placed in the maze as punishment, and Chuck says, “Huh? … Where did that happy thought come from?” He then dismisses it by pointing out that he’s only 12 or 13 … which is fair, but then he dismisses any line of questioning about their lot in life.

“It’s better than -“

“Yeah, I know, living in a pile of klunk.” Thomas stood up and pushed his chair back under the table. He liked Chuck, but trying to have an intelligent conversation with him is impossible.

Chuck is a suspicious character who is deliberately dodging all questions and trying to persuade Thomas that there is nothing wrong with being entrapped in a maze, surrounded by cyborg slug monsters, and monitored by an unknown party’s cybernetic insect sentinels. It’s so jarring because this is not at all how they characterize him in the movie, and it makes even less sense because he’s the Greenie before him. Chuck has only been here for a month, and he’s already desensitized? He doesn’t care that he can’t remember his age, his last name, his anything, and that he knows even less? How did Mr. Nice Guy get like this so quickly?

Of course, maybe he doesn’t care and has just adjusted his mind to be used to this new life. Maybe I just can’t understand why because I feel I’d be more like Thomas. But it’s still weird to me.

So, before anyone gets confused by the mention of cybernetic insect sentinels, one appears at the end of the chapter. It’s called a “beetle blade.” Check out this detail that closes the chapter and today’s post:

He caught a gleam of red light sweeping the ground in front of the creature as if it came from its eyes. Logic told him it had to be his mind playing tricks on him, but he swore he saw the word WICKED scrawled down its rounded back in large green letters. Something strange had to be investigated.

“WICKED”? Really? And in case it was too subtle, Dashner made sure to go all-caps on it (all reasonable people use all-caps!). This …

Fine, I’ll do it.

I couldn't put into words my disbelief at how ridiculous this is, so I just copped out and put this.

I couldn’t put into words my disbelief at how ridiculous this is, so I just copped out and put this.

That’s all for now! And I don’t just mean that about the post, I mean that the next post won’t be about The Maze Runner! Yep, finally doing something other than Writing on the Pages. Here’s a hint for what’s next: it is one big pile of shit.

… Wait, I don’t mean that the post will be shit, it’s a quote, a reference, please …

Darn it, it’s a tribute to Jurassic Park, happy now?

RADDman

And that’s what I was referencing!

Writing on the Pages – The Maze Runner #02: Chapters 1-5

Hey, you! Today we begin The Maze Runner by James Dashner, the very first book featured in Writing on the Pages (partly because I want to exploit its popularity with the teenyboppers for views, partly because it’s a birthday gift from a friend who’s waiting to hear what I think of it). Time to find out if it’s all it’s cracked up to be or just another spacetaker on the crowded YA dystopia shelf!

But first, just letting you know how this will go down: I’m gonna quote lines from throughout the chapters and write my impressions as I go along. Okay, now we can quit stalling.

 

CHAPTER 1

He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.

I was taught that the first sentence of a story needs to be compelling. If the reader isn’t invested from the get-go, then they don’t have much reason to continue it … right? I don’t know about you, but I believe that if you start a book and lose interest in it, you shouldn’t feel forced to finish it. Life is too short to spend too much of it on something you don’t even care about.

Damn, stalling again at the first line. With all that said, it’s got my attention!

 

Minutes stretched into hours, although it was impossible to know for sure because every second seemed an eternity. No. He was smarter than that. Trusting his instincts, he knew he’d been moving for roughly half an hour.

Boy, I’d like whatever instincts he has. Wouldn’t need this watch anymore. Also, does that measurement include all the time he was unconscious? For all he and his instincts know, he’s been moving for days.

Pleb.

Pleb.

He screamed, called for help, pounded on the walls with his fists.

Nothing.

Thomas backed into the corner once again, folded his arms and shivered, and the fear returned. He felt a worrying shudder in his chest, as if his heart wanted to escape, to flee his body.

Someone . . . help . . . me!” he screamed; each word ripped his throat raw.

Aw, geez, first line of dialogue and it’s already a melodrama. Maybe it’s the spaced-out ellipsis and italics, maybe it’s the fact the narration already described that he screamed for help. Either way it really deflates the tension.

 

Hands reached down, lots of hands, grabbing him by his clothes, pulling him up. The world seemed to spin, a swirling mist of faces and color and light. A storm of emotions wrenched his gut, twisted and pulled; he wanted to scream, cry, throw up. The chorus of voices had grown silent, but someone spoke as they yanked him over the sharp edge of the dark box. And Thomas knew he’d never forget the words.

“Nice to meet ya, shank,” the boy said. “Welcome to the Glade.”

In contrast, this section was really well-done. The description of Thomas’s confusion is vivid and fittingly chaotic, the words a “swirling mist” themselves. All of it leads to a plain statement that seems matter-of-factly to the point of being obvious, but actually explains very little. Don’t you just hate it a friend invites you to something with their other friend group and they spend the whole time exchanging inside jokes that sound completely alien to you? This is just like that, but you’re also almost completely amnesiac and surrounded by scary things. It’s another, more frustrating type of bewilderment in an experience that’s already crazy for Thomas. Cleverly done.

 

CHAPTER 2

What, already? Chapter 1 was barely over three pages! Oh, is this that writing shortcut BS where they give the illusion of progress by splitting chapters into halves or thirds? Come on, man, fifteen- or twenty-page chapters shouldn’t be that daunting if your target audience is in high school.

 

“As he rotated in a slow circle, the other kids snickered and stared; some reached out and poked him with a finger.”

Well, that’s rude. I’ve seen the movie, so I already know that the same thing happening with Thomas once happened to all these kids. Is his presence really so unusual that some of them feel the need to be like those jerks at a turn-of-the-century freak show? It’s a small detail, but it’s really weirding me out.

patrick touch

“A tall kid with blond hair and a square jaw … A short, pudgy boy … A thick, heavily-muscled Asian kid … A dark-skinned boy …”

I can see that the Glade is multiracial, but it’s odd that Dashner tells the race and skin color of two non-white characters while the first two do not have theirs described. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that the tall and short kids are white, but then why would he want us to know that the muscular one is Asian and the one who greeted Thomas is black? Is it just a subtle, probably subconscious byproduct of how our culture teaches us that whiteness is normal? Or am I just looking too much into it when it’s just trying to introduce characters?

 

“I told ya, shuck-face,” a shrill voice responded. “He’s a klunk, so he’ll be a slopper – no doubt about it.” The kid giggled like he’d just said the funniest thing in history.

Laughing at your own joke: always a sign of class.

 

Thomas looked back at his captors, feeling awkward but desperate to ask questions. Captors, he though. Then, Why did that word pop into my head?

Gee, could it be because you were trapped inside a cage in the dark for God knows how long, can’t remember anything about your past, and now find yourself in an unfamiliar place surrounded by giant metal walls and hostile strangers?

 

“Shuck it,” Alby said, rubbing his eyes.

Oh, I get it now! “Shuck” is a mix of “shit” and “fuck”! Cute way of dodging that R rating for the movie, Dashner! Totally not lame at all.

 

Thomas slid down the rough face of the tree until he sat on the ground again; he shrank back against the bark and closed his eyes, wishing he could wake from this terrible, terrible dream.

This moment comes after several pages of the group leaders, Alby and Newt, hassling him with completely unfamiliar terms and throwing vague comments alluding to death. As if this wasn’t rough enough, the chapter ends with a piercing shriek in the distance and a reaction from Newt that basically amounts to, “Can’t the doctors shut him up?”

The heroes of other fantasy and sci-fi stories are stoic and brave, and when they find themselves someplace unfamiliar through unknown means, they demand to know what’s going on. Meanwhile, Thomas seems to be doing his best not to break down and weep. Some might say he’s being kind of a wuss right now, but dammit, the kid can’t even remember his last name. The only thing he knows besides his first name is that he’s in serious danger that will only get worse.

So far, I strongly appreciate the realistic reaction that our protagonist is having towards all these developments. There’s something to be said for escapism, but I do know that if I awoke in a cage and found myself in a situation completely out of my control and largely beyond my understanding and can’t even remember my own freaking last name … hell, I’d shrink back and wish I could wake up. After all …

if you aint scared

So far, I feel that my responses aren’t as thoughtful as they could be. Let’s see if I can spend a little less time mocking the book and more time finding more positive and analytical things to say about it.

CHAPTER 3

Klunk’s another word for poo. Poo makes a klunk sound when it falls in our pee pots.”

Thomas looked at Chuck, unable to believe he was having this conversation. “That’s nice” was all he could manage.

Um …

That’s … nice …

Okay, I just needed to get that out of the way. In this chapter we are properly introduced to Chuck, the Greenbean (Glade slang for new guy) before Thomas and his guide for the night. I remember him from the movie, but as “Chunk.” I didn’t call him that because he’s described as “short and pudgy,” but because I would swear that his actor, Blake Cooper, looks just like Chunk from The Goonies.

chuck-maze-runner-chunk-goonies (1)

I also may have thought that the movie characters were actually calling him Chunk.

 

He stood up and walked past Chuck toward the old building; shack was a better word for the place. It looked three or four stories high …

Whoa, I don’t know how you define shacks, Dashner, but that building, even if it is “about to fall down at any minute,” is three or four stories high. It just doesn’t sound right to call something that tall a shack, even if it is somehow technically correct. The tallest thing I’d call a shack is probably Shaquille O’Neal.

 

“Listen to me, Greenbean.” The boy wrinkled up his face, folded his arms. “I’ve seen you before. Something’s fishy about you showing up here, and I’m gonna find out what.”

A surge of heat pulsed through Thomas’s veins. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. I have no idea who you are, and I couldn’t care less,” he spat.

I can’t help but feel that this is a parody (sorta) of YA conventions, namely the sudden development of a rivalry with some random narrative-designated jerk, a boy named … Gally? Really? Not quite the same ring as “Draco Malfoy,” is it?

The bigger question is: is it a parody? I can’t tell for sure, but even if that is not at all what Dashner intended when writing this scene, I’m enjoying it too much to care.

 

He lightly slapped Thomas’s shoulder, then stepped back, gesturing up the stairs. But Thomas knew the kid was up to something. Losing parts of your memory didn’t make you an idiot.

Never mind, the author knows exactly what he’s doing and it’s so much fun to watch. Your genre expects you to throw in an amnesiac teen protagonist? Okay, but he reacts exactly as an amnesiac teen in an unnatural situation like this would (as I explained in my previous post). Is “jerk rival” a typical trope? Sure, as long as Thomas points out how silly and exaggerated this is. Does that jerk then try, without any subtlety, to get our hapless protagonist in trouble? “Screw you, I’m James Dashner and losing parts of your memory didn’t make you an idiot.”

Does this look like a face that gives a damn?!

Does this look like a face that gives a damn?!

 

Thomas hated these people. He hated all of them. Except Chuck. … He realized that Chuck might actually be his only friend in the world.

Oh ho ho, it is humorous, because earlier he told Chuck that he doesn’t need friends, and now he accepts that Chuck is his friend! What irony!

This doesn’t take away from Dashner’s newfound street cred, though. While I saw that coming from a mile away, I thought it’d come back as an ironic echo closer to the climax or something.

 

CHAPTER 4

Though it was hard to make out from where he sat, there was something odd about the stone edges of the exits to the outside corridors.

The remainder of this chapter reveals that this is the giant door that leads to the Maze, which I already knew from watching the movie. However, I can only imagine how compelling this must have been for people reading it for the first time. I honestly don’t have much else to say about this chapter other than that if there are two things Dashner excels at (so far), it’s imagery and making build-up for that imagery.

“Why are you guys so secretive?”

Okay, I had to include this, I just like that he said that.

CHAPTER 5

So, how does the book follow up the big, discomforting reveal that everyone’s trapped within an enormous maze?

 

“The bathroom,” Chuck whispered.

“So?” A thread of unease stitched along Thomas’s skin.

“I love doing this to people. Gives me great pleasure before bedtime.”

Great, just what we needed to cap off what had to be an exhausting, disturbing day for Thomas: pranking someone in the potty. Dashner, can’t you go two more than two chapters without mentioning poop?

 

“Who’s that!” yelled the boy from the bathroom, his voice scratchy and laced with anger. Thomas had to hold in a gasp when he realized it was Gally –

Never mind, I approve.

 

Without warning, Chuck suddenly popped his head up toward the window and screamed at the top of his lungs. A loud crash from inside revealed that the trick had worked – and the litany of swearwords following it let them know Gally was none too happy about it.

Satisfied.

But … really, you’re just writing “litany of swearwords”? I’m personally not a big fan of strictly enforced PG-13 standards. If only they’d actually show some of the swears, or at least some kind of and colorful language …

 

“I’m not a dong, Greenie,” Gally spat.

I beg your pardon!

(And naw, man, I won’t even bother trying to put it in context. He called himself a penis, end of story)

 

“I know you,” Gally added without looking back. “I saw you in the Changing, and I’m gonna figure out who you are.”

Yeah, have fun with that, you dong.

 

Sorry, I thought this would be censored, or at least pixelated.

NSFW

Suddenly, the Glade, the walls, the Maze – it all seemed … familiar.

And it’s back to the plot, which is at least thickening. Thomas has this sudden epiphany that this place is not as foreign to him as it initially seemed. Damn, maybe I should have just come into this book fresh: this scene wasn’t in the film, and it seems so intriguing here but I already know the answer … Well, if it’s fresh for you, then isn’t this awesome?

I think these five chapters are enough for now (or perhaps more than enough). Seeing that this blog is just starting and this post in particular is a prototype, what do you think of the style? The length? The use of a Spongebob quote? (There’s one for any situation, I’m telling you!) Please let me know in a comment, I’d really appreciate it!

RADDman