Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Good Ideas = Good Books?

So, a question – can a killer concept save a book? Or conversely, can a killer concept be sunk by other, less successful parts of a book?

I ask this question because I’ve recently read two books that I thought should be better than they really were. Both feature awesome concepts – the basic idea that the book is built around – but ultimately weren’t that successful.

In Candor by Pam Bachorz, everyone is perfect. Everyone eats healthy. All kids get good grades and study. A hot date is holding hands over carrot juice at the local theatre. How is such perfection achieved? By constant bombardment with subliminal messages. However, there is a catch – once you start listening, you can never stop. The messages are “addictive” and not hearing them anymore will make you crazy. Oscar Banks knows this. As the son of the founder of Candor, he’s been hearing the messages longer than anyone, and has been able to develop a resistance to them. Now he has a nice little business on the side, smuggling teens out of Candor for a fee. Plus, he’s not above accepting a little junk food or the occasional M-rated game from a grateful client. Can’t pay? Enjoy perfection.

Awesome, right? Oscar is a great anti-hero and the whole design of Candor, one of those teeth-grindingly perfect “planned communities” sounds like it would make an awesome book. However, things soon get tied up in a boring romance with a magic-pixie-artist-girl. I was really disappointed by the ending of this book, which sort of fell into a very clichéd place.

The other book in my “Killer Concept” list is Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines. In the near future, Neo-Gladiators have become big business. Think Ultimate Fighting with swords, an honor code, and a lot more killing. In addition to the Gladiators themselves, there is a whole set of rules governing the behavior of the “Glad Wives” -- the women who are married to the gladiators. Lyn is the daughter of seven gladiators, meaning her mother has been married to seven different Gladiator Sports Association victors. However, when her seventh father dies in the ring, her world is upended when the GSA states that she must marry the gladiator who defeated her stepfather.

Again – doesn’t that sound amazing? Near future blood sports! How can that fail? However, this book suffers from trying to do too much, and it never figures out what it really wants to be – is it a cautionary tale about violence as entertainment? Is it a coming of age story about a girl taking charge of her destiny? Is it a book about a problem family? It tries to be all of these things, and never really does any of them very well. Also, don’t be fooled by the cover blub, there really isn’t that much fighting in this book.

So there you have it – great ideas, but less-than-great books. However, as always, your mileage may vary, and both these books are worth a look, if only to think about how YOU might have told the story.