Dystopia is a society based on personality quizzes.

In Chicago of the future, society is divided up by virtues: Dauntless (courage), Erudite (intelligence), Candor (honesty), Abnegation (self-sacrifice), and Amity (peacefulness.) All sixteen-year-olds must take an unimaginative virtual reality test, whose scenarios consist of choosing a knife or a piece of cheese, seeing a girl threatened by a dog, and being accosted by a creepy guy on a train. They are then told which faction they’re suited for, but have the option of picking a different one. Once they join a faction, they must pass a series of tests or be kicked out and join the factionless underclass.

Beatrice is born into Abnegation, who wear gray and eat boring food and take the stairs rather than elevators. As is typical in these sorts of dystopias, no one ever has hobbies or interests or does or says anything unrelated to the subject of the dystopia, unless they are the spunky rebel heroine, in which case they can think rebellious thoughts and obsess about the handsome, distant jerk they love. It's also the standard "everyone is heterosexual, no one has a culture, and everyone is white except for one supporting character" contemporary YA dystopia.

Beatrice tests as Divergent – the rare person whose personality is not defined by a single trait. She is warned that she’ll be killed if this is discovered. (Being Divergent turns out to be somewhat less stupid than initially stated, I should note.)

She picks Dauntless. They turn out to be a bunch of idiots with no apparent social function, who spend their time beating each other up a la Fight Club, leaping off the trains which circle the city seven stories up for no apparent purpose and with no apparent power source, getting tattoos and piercings, and playing paintball. Yes. Paintball, the ultimate pursuit of the brave!

The heroine, now named Tris because that’s way cooler and edgier, becomes a perfect shot and a bad-ass fighter in one month of practicing without, as far as I could tell, being trained in any specific techniques. (Getting beaten into unconsciousness on a daily basis does not, in my opinion, constitute useful training.) She’s bullied because she’s cooler and braver than anyone, and she falls for one of her trainers, a boy named Four, even though they don’t interact much.

To me, the appeal of romance is interaction, not staring at the hero and then going off to contemplate him in solitude. The interaction they do have is underwhelming. For instance, Four is overcome with admiration at Tris’s intelligence when they’re playing paintball and it occurs to her to… climb a tall structure to spot the other team. Genius!

Ender’s Game, though flawed, kept coming to my mind as a novel which did a lot of these tropes better. “Maybe I should look for the enemy” is not convincing evidence of brilliance. “The enemy’s gate is down” does work as an example of thinking outside of the box. Also, while Card’s book too was heavily paintball-based, it was at least spiffed-up zero-g paintball, not the real thing. Why would I need to read a dystopia to get my fix of the exact same game I could walk outside and play for real?

Much of the plot of Divergent made no sense. Early on, Tris makes a shocking discovery about her mother. About 200 pages later, she makes the same shocking discovery all over again. Either this novel was never edited at all, or it was severely over-edited, to the point where no one could keep track of what had or hadn’t been cut or added. My guess is the latter. That sort of continuity glitch happens a lot in TV when there’s excessive interference by the network.

The whole book was full of similar glitches and holes:

If everyone can choose their faction, what’s the point of the tests?

How does this society function? Does it have an economy? What do the factionless do? Since Dauntless doesn’t seem to produce cops or soldiers, who does? If no one does, who’s keeping the factionless down?

What does Candor do other than tell people their new dress makes them look fat?

What’s the trial for Amity, the nice faction? Endurance Kumbaya?



Divergence actually means the ability to resist mind-control and to know when you’re in VR. Tris is warned repeatedly that she’ll be killed if she demonstrates that she’s Divergent. But in her last and very public stint in VR, she does just that… and no one notices.

Tris’s mother gives her an extremely urgent message for her brother. This is not mentioned again for about a month, and then Tris suddenly goes and delivers it. Why the delay?

Tris is capable of making a head shot in a combat situation. Given that, she should at least try for a leg shot when she is presented with a temporarily brainwashed buddy trying to kill her, rather than shooting him in the head just so she can angst about it. (Or even center of mass. At least give him a chance!)

Similarly, despite her stated badassitude, when confronted with her brainwashed boyfriend who is also trying to kill her, rather than fight like hell to disarm or disable him, she throws down her weapon and relies on the power of looooooove to bring him to his sense. Since she’s the heroine, it works.

Finally, Tris’s mother sacrifices herself heroically (and unnecessarily) before Tris’s eyes. About six hours later, so does her father. Fifteen minutes later, what’s the main thing on Tris’s mind? Her totally awesome boyfriend!



My biggest issue, though, was that the novel didn’t follow through on its own premise. If I buy a book about a personality quiz society, I want to find out how each society does its tests and organizes itself. And I want to have some means of sorting myself. We learn barely anything about the other factions, and the initial test is ludicrous.

The idea of being sorted into a category has enormous appeal. I too love online personality quizzes. (I am a Gryffindor and an INFP, and the character I most resemble on A Game of Thrones is Arya Stark.)

But these factions not only have no appeal (which, to be fair, is part of the point that Sorting Is Bad), but you can't even use the book to amuse yourself by figuring out in which one you belong. Without context, choosing a knife over a piece of cheese is the equivalent of choosing a triangle over a square. It's like that online test going around a while back which gave completely random personality diagnoses on the basis of questions like "Which hexagon is watching you?" But without the hilariously paranoia-inducing questions and images.

Divergent
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)

From: [personal profile] zeborah


If everyone can choose their faction, what’s the point of the tests?

I'd guess it's useful, when you go to choose your faction, to have some idea of which one you're best suited for and therefore most likely to be able to pass the tests of, since failing said tests leaves you outcast.

The rest sounds fairly un-thought-through, though. Which is a shame, because I rather dislike personality quizzes so would revel in one that got really scathing about the INTP stuff. :-)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I did not think it was good. I would recommend Blood Red Road over this, on the strength of the first few pages, which is all I've read so far. It's another post-apocalypse YA, but with a very unusual, distinctive voice. Also, it's a "lawless and desert-y" landscape rather than a "the government has banned books, love, and cats" dystopia, and I am really sick of the latter.

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


Clearly what the world needs is an online quiz to determine which dystopia you should live in.

(I'm an INTJ, and my Tarot card is the Devil, which I am unable to argue with.)

From: [identity profile] sovay.livejournal.com


Clearly what the world needs is an online quiz to determine which dystopia you should live in.

Word!
zdenka: A woman touching open books, with loose pages blowing around her (books)

From: [personal profile] zdenka


I would take that quiz.

Would that be the dystopia where you're happiest, or unhappiest?

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From: [identity profile] cicer.livejournal.com


High five, fellow INTJ! Except my Tarot card is apparently the Hermit, which is...hilariously appropriate.

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From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com


It does seem a shame, since there's a lot of potential in the idea. (There is a lot of appeal in personality-sorting. I spent all the time re-reading the Vlad Taltos books trying to figure out which House I would be [and rather suspecting it was Teckla, I'm afraid].) But that does not sound like good execution.

(I am, of course, a Ravenclaw INTP.)
Edited Date: 2011-08-19 06:09 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I do too! But I'm not sure we know enough about all the houses to be able to make an informed selection.

http://www.okcupid.com/tests/the-your-dragaeran-house-test

Hmmm. According to this, I'm an Orca. I don't think so! They should have had a rule-out question like, "Are you good with financial matters?" (No.)

ETA: The SelectSmart quiz thinks I'm a Dragon. Um... closer?
Edited Date: 2011-08-19 06:20 pm (UTC)

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From: [identity profile] thomasyan.livejournal.com


If everyone can choose their faction, what’s the point of the tests?

Well, that is not so far fetched in my opinion. Lots of people have trouble making choices, and might prefer to opt for a default. And rigging the tests might be useful if there are population targets for the factions.

From: [identity profile] ellen-fremedon.livejournal.com


The OKCupid one makes me a Teckla, which doesn't seem egregiously wrong; the SelectSmart one makes me an Athyra, which is what I would have predicted.

(Like half of fandom, I'm a Ravenclaw INTP.)

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com


Endurance kumbaya had me laughing out loud, but I laughed louder at your remark about that quiz with the hexagons, because that quiz, WTF.


From: [identity profile] kateelliott.livejournal.com


The divergence between the buzz and your review makes me think I will never be able to write a YA novel.

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From: [identity profile] katie-m.livejournal.com


What does Candor do other than tell people their new dress makes them look fat?

This strikes me a as a pretty hilarious idea for an official societal grouping. YOU MUST BE CORDELIA CHASE! And then when people are offended, you can be all "what can I say, I have to be HONEST, it's my JOB!" It's like being hired to be a professional asshole.

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


It's like being hired to be a professional asshole.

Around here we call those "consultants."

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From: [identity profile] foibos.livejournal.com


I don't get it -- if it is discovered that she's Divergent, she will be killed. She's told this upon discovery that she's Divergent. Shouldn't the story end there?

Oh, and this: Ravenclaw INFJ. Glad to have that off my chest.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Someone who's secretly pro-Divergent finds out, tells her, and then covers it up.
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From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


Are the lactose-intolerant put to death, form a secret rebel underground, or both?
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From: [identity profile] helen-keeble.livejournal.com


I now desperately want a YA dystopia where the government controls TV shows, and society is divided into warring media fan-factions determined by online quizzes.

It might however be indistinguishable from real life.

From: [identity profile] m00nface.livejournal.com


1) Have you ever written a review of Ender's Game? It's something I'd really like to read if you ever did.

2) This was one of the most fascinating reviews of yours I've read, because you have such specific ideas of how to make it better. Have you ever read a personality quiz dystopia book that ticks those boxes, or written anything on those lines yourself?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


1. No, I don't think I have. I first read it in high school, and I've probably re-read it once a year ever since. It's one of those books where I can see the flaws, but they don't ruin the book for me because the strengths are so strong.

2. Hmm. No to both - I can think of books which do personality sorting better, but none in which it's really central.

Laurie Marks' Fire Logic has a fun personality system which doesn't involve the literal sorting of society, but is more like astrology in the real world - something a lot of people believe in, but we don't have Scorpio House. Harry Potter. A book by Patricia Wrede, Caught in Crystal, has a nice magic school sorting system, but again, it's not central to the story.

One of the most interesting takes on the concept that I recall, in a book which I don't seem to own, was "land-draw," in which the region in which you're born specifies your magic power and personality traits, even if your parents were from a different area and were just visiting when you were born. It's called Contrarywise, by Zohra Greenhalgh, but she and it seem to have vanished without a trace.

I do have a post-apocalyptic YA I'm trying to sell, but it's set in a much more realistic sort of society, one which naturally evolved under certain conditions rather than the society being dictated by utopian principles. No sorting, unless you count people with mutant powers vs. people without them.

Maybe I'll write a short story with sorting!

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chomiji: A young girl, wearing a backward baseball cap, enjoys a classic book (Books - sk8r grrl)

From: [personal profile] chomiji


Things that occur to me:

Why does anyone write these things?

Why does anyone publish these things instead of, you know, all the really great stories that can't find publishers?

(As always, I'm an INFP, my Tarot card is the Moon, I am not terribly shocked to find that I am a Hufflepuff, and I am a Tiassa although I have no idea what that means except that it's from the GRRM TV serial. Yay personality quizzes!)


From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


1. Inspiration sparked by the zeitgeist, sometimes combined with the knowledge that they sell well, I imagine.

2. They sell well. And don't contain gay people, disabled people, or non-white people, except occasionally in small supporting roles, so they seem like even more of a safe, guaranteed sale. I imagine.

3. The question you didn't ask: "Why does anyone buy these books?"

I'm guessing interest sparked by the zeitgeist, plus huge availability and restricted alternate options.

Tiassa is actually from Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series.

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From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com


Wow, that sounds terrible and dull (even worse!).
.

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