Thursday, May 10, 2012

No...Just...No (AKA, Review of "Insurgent," by Veronica Roth)

Remember back when YA Highway asked "Where do you get your books?" and I confessed to hiding in bookstores and reading a few books without paying for them? Veronica Roth's Divergent was one of those books. Considering that a) I didn't have a lot of money at the time, b) the book was already an over-hyped best-seller, and c) that I didn't even end up liking it that much, I had no reason to regret this decision.

Still, I was curious about Insurgent, and the summary did sound really good. So for that reason, I decided to do what I've stopped doing since I got a paying job: hide in Barnes & Noble and finish the book. And once again, I do not regret that decision. If I had actually paid $17 for this book, I would have had to find a weapon and threaten the store clerk until he/she gave me back my money. That's how much I hated Insurgent.

I don't even know where to begin. Even in the first book, the villains were completely one-dimensional, but it wasn't until reading Insurgent when I realized that almost all of the secondary characters are total cardboard cut-outs. (See Francesca Zappia's post on the subject.) There's even a token head-shaving lesbian. (This is hardly a spoiler.) And while there are a lot of arguments and inter-character drama, most of it is cliche and/or ridiculous.

Oh, and the pseudoscience? I've already bitched about this in Divergent, but Insurgent takes it to a whole new level. The explanation of what "divergent" means was nonsensical enough in the first book, but Insurgent tries to throw in a bunch of science to explain it, and guess what? It doesn't work. Sure, having a larger prefrontal cortex might make you more strong-willed or "goal-oriented," but how the fuck does that relate to having a more "flexible" personality? Oh, and now "divergent" is supposed to be a genetic thing. Yes, the ability to resist mind-controlling substances can now be passed down with a simple gene. Don't even get me started.

Actually, yes, please do get me started. Veronica Roth tries to make the science behind Insurgent actually sound credible, but I'm convinced that she's done nothing more than look up "parts of the brain" on Wikipedia. While she might know what the prefrontal cortex does, she doesn't seem to grasp the fact that even the most basic science requires a certain degree of logic behind it. (But hey, if we're going to play "scientist," why not take it all the way? Like, for instance, if the members of Amity have been exposed to happy serum their entire lives, shouldn't they have built up some kind of tolerance to the substance? And how is it that Tris' society has found a way to manipulate the brain, the most complex organ in the human body, but they can't even cure spinal cord injury? Oh, and while we're talking about mind control, how exactly are they getting those microchips in the right part of the brain? Hell, how are they even getting them through the blood-brain barrier?)

And this is the part where you tell me to calm the fuck down, because Veronica Roth isn't a scientist, she's a writer, and she's doing her best. (After all, they call it science fiction for a reason.) And in most cases, I'd agree with you. I mean, it wasn't easy to swallow the sad excuse for "genetic engineering" in Across the Universe, but I let it slide.

So why am I being so harsh on Insurgent? Oh, don't I know. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Roth is attempting to build ground with scientists while simultaneously turning them into the Big Villains. Yes, I'm talking about the members of Erudite, the faction of cold-hearted, overly-utilitarian mad scientists who are fascinated by water filtration systems and wear glasses not because they actually need them, but because they want to look smarter. Am I really supposed to believe that half of the intelligent faction is going to get behind an evil tyrant like Jeanine? Intelligent people tend to question things, and as a result, they're a lot harder to manipulate.

But anyway, I didn't have a problem with the "evil Erudite" in Divergent. I love a good evil genius as much as anyone else. Unfortunately, the whole "genius" part doesn't seem to apply to Jeanine, the Erudite leader. Every one of her actions is dripping with stupidity. At one point, she wants to use a truth serum on Tris, but the leader of Candor won't let her have any of it, and it will take days to make a new batch. Umm, did it really never occur to her to keep an extra vial of the stuff hidden away before she gave it all to Candor? (It seems like a useful thing to have around.) And hiring a guy who previously deserted the Erudite/Dauntless alliance to guard one of her most important prisoners? (I was under the impression that she had a hundred other sociopathic minions she could have picked for the job.) Oh, and my favorite: "Abnegation has this big important secret thing that we want, so let's commit mass genocide in order to steal it!" (Did it never occur to her to just, I don't know, pull the fire alarm or something?)


Earlier today, our lab hosted our annual Spinal Cord Injury Symposium. This is where doctors, physical therapists, and researchers come together to discuss new discoveries, new theories, and new technologies that will ultimately improve quality of life for people suffering from SCI. Today's speakers all dedicated their lives to finding a cure, and their research is fascinating. I learned so much about inflammatory regulators, central pattern generators, stem cells, and glial scars. It's days like today where I remember why I went into this field--there are real people suffering from these conditions, and real people working their tails off to make it happen.

The scientists I know aren't evil geniuses. They're passionate, hard-working, quirky individuals. But if Tris Prior ever walks through our lab, all she would see would be people in white coats standing around typing away on computers and "mixing different colored liquids." (I'm pretty sure this is exactly how she describes it--and this girl is supposed to be smart enough to be Erudite.)

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