Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Maximum Rid-iculous

Maximum Ride: The Final Warning by James Patterson
2Q 4P Audience: J/M
(sorry, Mr. Patterson, you may be marketing these to adults first now because "the sales are better that way", but they are NOT adult books)

Wow. Wow. Okay. I don't usually pan books here. I'd rather write about books that are worth the time it takes to write about them. But I'm making an exception for this one, which I just finished reading during my dinner break. Patterson churns out a book every other month, or so it seems. He must take all of two or three months to churn them out. I think he might have wanted to spend just a bit more time on this one. Maybe he's such a big star that his editor is a little afraid to tell him that he needs to go back to the keyboard and try again. I can't think of any other reason for a book this weak from such an established author.

The first two Maximum Ride books weren't literary masterpieces. But they were (very) light, quick, fun reads. The premise (human children genetically altered to become a human/bird hybrid and constantly on the run from those who would use and/or abuse them) is intriguing. There was an internal logic to the story, and the characters, particularly Max, work. Patterson did a terrific job with cliff hangers at the end of every chapter. All of this made the first two books in the series easy to recommend, especially to kids who don't like to read. Yes, the events are more than a little improbable, but that's part of the fun. The third book in the series slipped a bit, though it was still a decent read. But this one... yeesh!

After book three, Patterson really didn't have a place to take this story and his characters, but he decided to write a fourth (and there will be more) book anyhow. That meant coming up with a way to keep the story going. Throwing out even the slightest of connection to reality and good science, the kids (and Total, the dog) are all randomly generating new mutations. This occurs practically overnight, and with the exception of Gazzy's, the mutations have not a hint of a relation to any talent/mutation they have already exhibited. They also don't seem to have any particular importance to the story, so they seem even more gratuitous by the end of the book. Scientific principles are tossed by the wayside elsewhere as well. For instance, Category five hurricanes smash storm-proof windows, yet the Flock can fly in those winds without being torn to pieces. (Apparently all they need to do, as Max's Voice tells her, is to "Go with the flow" Yeah. Right.) I'm also wondering how an eighty pound weight can fall from a great height at great velocity and land on a girl who weighs less than a hundred pounds without breaking most of the bones in her body. Okay, the science in this science fiction series has been a weak link all along, but these are examples of events that stretch credulity past the breaking point. Call it fantasy or call it science fiction, it still needs to have internal consistency. And in good science fiction, basic laws of science aren't broken merely to advance the story.

Then there are the villains. Naturally, they pop up everywhere the kids go. The major villain has absolutely no relation to anything that's gone before. That's not terribly unusual in a sequel, I suppose. But since he's some sort of mutant or construct, it might have been a good idea to tell us where he came from and how he got to such a position of power. It certainly seemed to me that he's just the kind of hybrid that all the villains in the previous books wanted to get their hands on. He's got the power and intelligence to create his own little Frankensteins. How did he get to this position? Wouldn't he have been hounded and chased in the same way the Flock has been? Why is he so eager to exploit the kids instead of being on their side? We don't know, because he's such a two dimensional character.

Patterson has AN AGENDA with this book. See, there's this thing called global warming. And it's bad. It's causing all kinds of disastrous things all around the world. But some people don't believe it exists and other people think it's not a serious issue. These people must be convinced that global warming is bad. How to do this? Hmmm...how about I frame this book around the issue? Patterson does this with all the subtlety of a right hook to the jaw, followed by an upper cut. Max is a doubter. She thinks it's a good thing that the weather is a little warmer. How bad could a one degree change in temperature be? Well, Max, I'm glad you asked. Let me tell you. And tell you. And tell you. Not only is Max thoroughly convinced in the end, she winds up lecturing Congress about it. Umm. Yeah.

Put aside all those problems for a moment. The main issue here is that the writing is just plain bad. There are improbable coincidences that scream of "I've written myself into a corner. How can I possibly get myself out of it?" Or, worse, "I'm writing for kids. They won't care if this makes absolutely no sense. And my adult readers will buy anything with my name on it, so no worries there about internal logic." Sentences clunk instead of flow. The only characters who have any depth are Max and ... well, just Max, really, though Fang and Jeb (who barely appears) have their moments. Oh! Yeah! Speaking of Fang, here's another thing I love. Fang has a blog? The Flock is perpetually on the run from bad guys? Then why on Earth would he reveal where they are and what they are doing? These kids are supposed to be smart! And still yet another example that made me wonder where Patterson's editor was: towards the end of the book, we are casually told that a particular character was revealed (offstage) to be a bad guy. Why? There is not one single shred of evidence anywhere else in the book to prove that. or make it significant. If it's never a factor, why was it necessary to mention it?

Okay. End rant. I've spent enough time on this. I still have two half-written posts to finish and three more (and much better) books to write about. I think I'll go watch more of the Olympics. Maybe that'll help get me over this disappointment of a book so that I can concentrate on writing those posts tomorrow (after my summer reading-is-over party).


  1. According to Patterson
    "I just am convinced that there aren’t enough books like this — books that kids can pick up and go ‘Wow, that was terrific, I wouldn’t mind reading another book." Audacious, eh?

  2. Thanks for the link. Audacious is one word for it! The more I read quotes from Patterson, the less impressed I am.

    I also hadn't realized until I read the article that he has a co-author for this series (too). How generous of him to give her (them? It's not clear if the same person coauthored them all) recognition. Oh, wait. He didn't. Then again, I wouldn't want my name on it anyhow. Maybe she feels the same way.

  3. I actually really enjoyed the first three books in the Maximum Ride series, but I do agree that the fourth is a flop. It's kind of like what Stephenie Meyer did with New Moon. She had a really good storyline, but it was badly executed.

  4. Yeah, I really wish he'd stopped while he was ahead. I still need to read Breaking Dawn and Eclipse. I thought I'd read BD, but it turns out that I didn't. And we have too many holds on the books at the library right now for me to get my hands on either one of them, so I guess it'll be awhile. I really want to know (though I've got a fair idea of some of it) just what she did in Eclipse that got people so riled up. I hope it's not as bad as MR: FW.

  5. Ok I have to admit the fourth one was pretty bad but ya know what James Patterson writes really good and just saying he writes way better than Stephenie Meyer does in Twilight and all her other books. He is a great writer and just because one of his books didn't do so well doesn't mean you have to criticize everything he freakin does. His fifth book got him back on track and I LOVED IT SO MUCH. So just cuz some1 gets off track doesn't make the this stupid horrible writer.

  6. Anonymous, I haven't read Max. I'm glad to hear from at least one reader that it's an improvement. I'll try to flip through it and see if I agree and keep an ear open for what my teens have to say about it.

  7. I came across this page through a typing mistake. I must say I also think the fourth book was horrible, so if my recommendation to anyone who has not read the series as of yet: just read the first three. There are several others things that are mentioned and never mentioned later--stuff like that is what could make the book bad, but I have tried to write books and unless you cut all ties with reality and believe you are living in the world you are writing about it is hard to keep track of everything. Even then perfection is impossible to achieve. Everyone has their idea of how they would make the story go if they wrote it and that is a great thing, but these days I see people complaining about books for no reason and saying the author should have done this or that.

    On the subject of Twilight, I read the first book and was horrified about the simplicity. I had worked up in my mind it must be great for so many people to exalt it and I was bitterly disappointed. I have no plans to read any of the other books or see the movies.


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