Allegiant – Violating the Covenant of Consistency

I’ve recently been reading Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy at the behest of my son Ben, who thought we should read at least the first book prior to seeing the movie. I’ve made my way through the first two, but now, about 120 pages into the third book, I’ve hit something which not only broke my disbelief suspenders, it’s thrown me out of the story so badly that I’m not sure I want to finish it.

I’ve had other issues with these books as I’ve made my way through them the last few weeks. Most of what’s bothered me are artifacts of sloppy world-building. It’s really hard to get a handle on just how big the factions really are, and how big the factionless population is. And when I step away from the story of the main characters and try to visualize the society in which they live, things just don’t add up. Dauntless only accepts 10 new initiates a year? All of Abnegation can fit into the meeting room at their headquarters, and yet Tris never knew Tobias, despite both of their parents being leaders of their factions? The factionless don’t get food except from Abnegation and Amity charity, and squat in unused structures, but yet they work all the scut jobs? Why would they perform all that essential labor without getting something in return?

Roth’s descriptions of Dauntless training also clearly display a real lack of any knowledge or understanding of military or martial arts training. Two weeks to make soldiers? You can barely learn the minimum essentials in 9 weeks of basic training, and that includes a host of things Roth leaves out: tactics at any scale from individual to unit; movement under fire; first aid; weapons maintenance; patrol techniques; and a host of other things you have to know as a soldier. Of course, if you’re just going for “Thugs with guns” then two weeks is probably enough.

I’ve also not been pleased that the major villains so far have all been members, past or present, of the Erudite faction, the one which prizes knowledge and inquiry. Consciously or unconsciously, Roth displays a real anti-intellectualist and anti-learning bias.

Then there’s her lousy science. If you’ve got wet-nano technology such as she describes the various “serums” possessing, and the ability to perform research and development along those lines, there’s a host of other supporting tech you’re going to have access to.

But when I pushed those aside and followed the exploits and struggles of Tris, I found the story to be fairly engaging in the first book. The second, Insurgent, was more of a struggle, suffering a bit of “middle book syndrome” along with lots and lots of angst, but at least Tris has some good reasons for her angst (namely, she’s suffering post-traumatic stress).

The third book, Allegiant, starts out briskly, at least compared to its immediate predecessor. But about 120 pages in, Roth drops something that – for me, at least – is a deal-breaker. Without getting too spoilery – Allegiant hasn’t been out all that long – Roth reveals something about a character from the first book that should be flatly impossible, given the society she’s described so far. Readers can forgive a lot of implausibility, as long as the implausible world maintains a high level of internal consistency with it’s own rules. Roth and her editor break that covenant in Allegiant, and that drags all the other sloppiness up to the surface.

I think I’m going to put this aside, and get back to Kameron Hurley’s excellent “Bel Dame Apocrypha” cycle; I’d put the second of those books, Infidel, aside in favor of Divergent. It’s shame that Hurley, a far better writer than Roth, isn’t landing multi-million dollar movie deals for her vastly superior books.

The Universal Principle

By which I mean, of course, change.

Change has been much on my mind of late, for reasons both good and bad. New responsibilities in my day job. A beloved aunt passes away. Some friends and family members experience good fortune, while others struggle with depression or lose their homes to fire. And beyond the small circle within which my own eyes can see, larger currents are at work, manifesting everywhere from the exciting experiments in on-line journalism to the “hollowing-out” of the job market as automation & technology consume the middle-skill tier of jobs. New discoveries come hand in hand with the re-awakenings of ancient hatreds. We all get older, and entropy inexorably has its way with our bodies, and sometimes our minds.

Change is inevitable.

Change, by its very nature, disrupts; and people being people, some handle it better than others. And it is true that for some, a given change can be negative in its impact. It’s hard to find the upside to losing one’s home, or a parent, or your means of livelihood. Yes, yes, silver linings can sometimes be found, but there are times when all that change serves up to you is a giant helping of Suck.

But sometimes, what some feel as a negative impact is actually to the greater good. Power shifting from the hands of the few to the previously powerless is a good thing, whether that’s the fall of a kleptocrat in Ukraine to a segment of people no longer being able to deny basic rights to a minority.

It is important to distinguish between these two, I think, to understand the difference between the unequivocally bad, and the bad-to-some which is really good. To recognize that losing your ability to dictate to others that they must believe as you do is not persecution. That being forced from the position of a singular voice to being one voice of many may, in fact, be more just than the prior state of affairs.

It’s also important to recognize that those larger currents at work can render the solutions of yesteryear invalid, and that rather than insisting on dogmatically applying them, we need to look at the facts of actual practice. The economic solutions to the problems of the 1970s may not apply today, for example; when we see austerity failing dramatically overseas, perhaps it’s time we put it back in the box.

Change throws us around and disorients us, which makes it all the more important that we face the facts, assess the evidence. The pace of change is accelerating, at least for now, and we will need to examine closely our old attitudes and responses to see if they will help or harm. For example: if we do indeed reach a point at which the work of maintaining our society only requires 20% of our population – something more conservative than the most extreme predictions of those forecasting the rise of automation call for – what do we do about conflation of work with moral worth in this country? If there ¬†simply aren’t jobs for eight of ten people seeking them, are those two in ten truly superior? Or only superior in fortune, of birth or otherwise?

Dealing with those who cannot handle change well is something I’ve had to think about lately. This has ranged from “How do I support this struggling friend, wrestling with a True Bad Thing?” to “How do I engage these people refusing to acknowledge the changing landscape of technology and business so I can protect my employer and our customers?” to “Do I dare respond to this person expressing a view which angers me regarding a social issue I care about, knowing that he or she has no clue that they’re talking about a world that no longer exists, or never really existed in the first place?” My search for answers continues.

Roger Zelazny once wrote that universe constantly throws bricks at us, and that sometimes the pace at which the bricks are thrown speeds up for a time. We seem clearly to be in one of those periods now. May we all weather the brick shower, coming out better on the other side.

“Stand in the door!”

Beginnings and endings have been much upon my mind of late, though not in the maudlin way that one expects the stereotypical middle-aged guy to indulge in. With that in mind, this is something I’m beginning; a place to practice getting the thoughts out of my head and into the world. An exercise in writing discipline. A place to vent, to expound, to pontificate, and maybe once in a while speak a little wisdom.

The title, by the way, is the command given by the jumpmaster to the first person in line to exit the plane during parachute jump, at least in the US Army circa 1982-84. 

Greenlight’s lit. Time to go…