Feb 192014

semiautopistolSo I read Veronica Roth’s Divergent, despite my exasperation with YA, because we’re reading it for our book club. I’m not going to talk about the book itself (which will come in a future review post), but rather about the whole concept of nitpicking.

It is very clear to any reader who’s handled a gun before that Roth doesn’t understand guns on a mechanical level. This is unfortunate, because handguns figure prominently in the climax of the novel. She makes a number of simple mistakes, the most frequent one being the “chambering of a bullet” that didn’t make sense. Normally one lets things like that pass by without comment, but this just kept happening over and over. Using semi-auto pistols people would chamber a bullet one-handed! They’d often do it as a threat, even when a bullet was already chambered. They’d do it directly after having fired the gun. WTF?

Eventually I figured that what she meant by “chambered a bullet” was “cocked the hammer”. Then it all made sense.

But this degraded my enjoyment of the book. It’s like reading a novel with car chases, whose climax features an extended car chase scene, where characters are constantly described as “changing gears” whenever what they’re actually doing is “slamming on the brakes”. “A building collapsed just ahead, filling the street with rubble. John grabbed the steering wheel and changed gears, bringing the car to a screeching halt.”

Should this matter? The characters are unchanged. Their interactions are unchanged. Roth is great at making us care about the protagonist and hate the antagonists, there is still a story and some character growth, the plot is unaffected. Maybe this shouldn’t bug me this much.

Suspension of disbelief is a tricky thing. Anyone who didn’t know much about guns would just keep reading without being violently thrown from the story. This is how Prometheus managed to be successful – enough people don’t know enough about science that the glaring basic mistakes didn’t hit them in the face. They probably wouldn’t be as forgiving of a Titanic movie that had the Titanic hit an iceberg and then continue on to port while people complained about how hard it was to make it from one side of the ship to the other now. Maybe I should be glad that so many people don’t know anything about guns, it could be a sign that people in our society are safe enough to concern themselves with less violent knowledge!

Still – being ejected from a story like that, repeatedly, sucks. Guns are common, and fairly simple. If they’re a big part of your story, couldn’t you at least get a basic familiarity with them? I don’t feel that’s asking too much.

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