YA Weekend: The 100 by Kass Morgan
“Although the astronomical event of a lifetime was playing out right before his eyes, he was looking only at her.”
Genre: Science fiction, post-apocalyptic, young adult, romance
Series: The 100 #1
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (September 2013)
Wendy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars
I didn’t bother with CW’s The 100 because I am a YA snob and didn’t want to watch a show that reduced young adults to the sum of their private parts with a dash of Lord of the Flies drama, but reviews from reliable sources prompted me to change my mind. It started out proving my fears to be reasonably well founded, but, as the story of 100 young adults sent to a ruined earth to see if it was survivable progressed, the kids started to put their big boy and girl pants on. Moreover, it wasn’t just about the kids on the ground. It also focused prominently on the adults above, and later below, and how they all deal with this new world together–or apart.
Lost meets Battlestar Galactica is the easiest way to describe the show (it even features actors from both, which made me overlook my initial frustrations), with an excellent concept at its base: three generations after a nuclear winter, the survivors of the cataclysm have found that their orbital home, the Ark, is dying. Air is precious, which is why criminals over the after of 18 are punished with immediate death by “floating” out into the cold, cold vacuum of space. 100 juvenile delinquents are sent to earth wearing life monitoring bracelets to determine if the earth is ready for its spacebound children to return. The 100 are canaries in the mine.
I learned that the show was based on three books. I also learned that the books weren’t that great. Not surprising. Sometimes poorly written books with a great idea behind them make for the best kind of viewing entertainment. But then I learned that there was more to it. The concept, starting with the title, was brewed up in a think tank at Alloy Entertainment. A manuscript by Morgan was set in play and eventually a publishing deal with reached for two books. Meanwhile, the idea was also pitched to Warner Bros as a pilot that was immediately snapped up even before the books were done.
“In the beginning the novel informed the TV writers about the world, the characters, and the story. But they are full steam ahead in the writers’ room for the show. I’ll continue to work with Kass on our stories, and details will be threaded into the show, but there will be differences; we’ll see how much it parallels.” [X]
To me, having watched the show and now read this book, it feels like the two groups were given point form notes on major plot points surrounding the characters Morgan created, and then went their separate ways. In my mind, the result goes something like this:
Script writers: In this scene, we can use this, this, and this to build various societies on the earth and deal with the issues on the Ark and bring that down to the earth, oh and maybe we can get rid of these characters here but expand on these characters and make this one way more useful and…
Morgan: In this scene, I can make people kiss, kiss some more, or at least think about kissing.
The latter seems to be all well and good for some people who like the book, most of whom are deeply invested in the show’s various romances. And certainly, there are romances, and many of them are great. But that’s not what the show is about. The book on the other hand, centres every scene around romance, with one character actually risking everyone’s lives to do a thing for the girl he loves. And it makes that particular character and his utter lack of development beyond this plot point just… ugh. Not that any of the other characters develop much either — “Except, unless of course, you consider falling in love a character development,” writes one reviewer, which seems to be the consensus for those of us who dislike the book, whether or not reviewers have seen the show. The book takes such a superficial run at this amazing concept, focusing instead on scenes that rarely stray away from who wants to make heart eyes at whom, jealousy, and occasionally applying bandaids to wounds or going hunting in order to actually achieve that survival thing they were sent to earth to do.
I almost feel bad for Morgan and the apparent fact that she had no contact with the script writers to compare notes, leaving this all to the gods of “We’ll See” to see how things match up. Understandably, the show has to pad things out to fill a 13-16 season ark based on just a concept, but the book ought to have done the same. Instead, there was no world building, no character development for the four protagonists it follows, no dramatic conflict, sparse descriptions…
But hey. Ballarke fans can rest happy on their ship. Who cares about plot and purpose.