Feb 9, 2014

[Books] The Hunger Gays

When a book directly references another, it's always a tricky thing. Many such titles that draw direct inspiration from another route normally take the path of parody to justify itself and to avoid potential lawsuits.

And that's sort of what I was thinking when I opted to read a review copy of The Hunger Gays, a book clearly patterned after The Hunger Games based on the title and its cover art alone. And given that, I naturally assumed that it would adopt a lighter tone given the sort of "tradition" to take the parody route. But this wasn't the case.

If anything, this book is a fairly serious effort to adapt the narrative format of The Hunger Games and re-contextualize things with LGBT characters - or in this case just gay ones. I wasn't quite prepared for how heavy this book would be or how much of a struggle it would be to get to the end of the book. Whether it's because of my incorrect expectations or the book being that challenging a read, it's hard to fully wrap my head around this story to the level of me being able to recommend it wholeheartedly.

Synopsis: The Hunger Gays is a queer science fiction written by Nathan Alexander. Disclaimer: I picked up a free review copy of this NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion of the work.

In a post-apocalyptic Earth that was devastated by asteroid or nuclear war, young Aspen Summers is doing his best to help his family survive. He's one of the few with an official license to hunt, but there's not much to be found in the area surrounding Territory G. But his bigger concern is the coming MvM Match where two male members of each Territory - a top and a bottom - will be chosen to engage in a perverse sexual battle to the death where only one may be the victor.

But when Aspen's younger brother is selected for the games, Aspen quickly volunteers in his place. He's joined by Hyacinth, a boy who practically raped Aspen a few years ago but in the end Aspen topped him. But in the games, Hyacinth has identified himself as being a top while Aspen has the role of a bottom and the two must find a way to navigate the wondrous horrors of Cardinal City and of course the games themselves.

As much as I was expecting a light parody of the original story, I was not expecting a dark, disturbing and rather perverse dive into a strange sadomasochistic jaunt with an even more disturbing ending. Sure I knew this was bound to be an erotica piece of some sort, but nothing really prepared me for just how depraved this book would actually turn out to be.

A lot has been written about Katniss Everdeen being a horrible role model given her willingness to do just about anything to survive. When you transplant that core aspect of her personality into our protagonist, Aspen, you get a character who is truly difficult to like and quite a horror to follow around at times. In this case the willingness to do just about anything will actually involve just about anything. Anything.

The author lays on the political motivations behind the games and Cardinal City as a whole in a manner that is not a all subtle. In fact he comes off a little heavy handed as he speaks through Aspen to constantly remind us as readers that one man can't possibly stand up against the government. And the sheer strangeness of the format of the games itself really brings this title to strange territories.

Ultimately any contestant in the games needs to first get into a sexual encounter with his target before killing him. And thus sexual domination is a big thing here and what the characters end up doing is not at all appealing. And I don't get why the one character gets the essentially magical device that can render a guy dumb through sheer pleasure. How is anyone expected to defeat that?

The Hunger Gays goes beyond the realm of entertaining kink and deep down into the pits of dark despair that make one wonder if the author should seek professional help. I feel dirty having read the book at all - and not in a good way. Aspen makes Katniss appear like a total saint in comparison! Thus I can only give the book 1 strange sexual device used as a weapon in the games out of a possible 5.

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