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Two disappointments from Dan Brown

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Perhaps I ought to have paid more attention to “The Da Vinci Code”. It was such an irresistibly delightful lark that I didn’t look very closely at the language. Certainly, nothing dreadful jumped out and whacked you in the face. This isn’t true, however, of “Deception Point” or “Digital Fortress”. Like “Da Vinci Code”, they’re silly and slight, the kind of thing you carry on a long plane journey, but at least “The Da Vinci Code” was clever, even though it’s theories are nothing but a well-known con, as an excellent article in the New York Times shows.

These two books by Dan Brown don’t have the élan of “The Da Vinci Code”. They are just contrived and affected. Worse, the writing is truly terrible. In “Deception Point”, we get phrases like “wrought with failure”. Shouldn’t that be fraught or plagued or beset or dogged? But wrought? What hath Brown wrought?

The real beauty, though, is this:

“Despite having ascended to the most powerful political office in the world, President Zachary Herney was average in height, with a slender build and narrow shoulders.”

I didn’t realize that becoming a President gave you wall-to-wall muscles. Or that you needed to be a block of walking concrete to get the Presidency. I thought Arnie was an aberration. How very perspicacious of Brown to note, years ahead, that pumping iron is the siné-qua-non of presidential or gubernatorial aspirations.

But what I really disliked about both books is their deliberate dumbing-down of their protagonists. This isn’t a concession to the reader at all; it’s talking down to the reader, and it’s humiliating. In “Digital Fortress”, for instance, Susan Fletcher is supposed to be a very highly educated, blindingly intelligent mathematician working in code-breaking. She’s not just a pretty face. She is a Brainy Person. So how is it that she has no Latin at all?

Hale nodded thoughtfully. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
Susan looked puzzled.
“It’s Latin,” Hale said. “From Satires of Juvenal. It means ‘Who will guard the guards?'”
“I don’t get it,” Susan said. “‘Who will guard the guards?'”

Oh, come on, Mr Brown. We realize you were bothered that many of your readers wouldn’t know the prhase, but did you have to turn your mathematician into a dimwit to explain it? Surely she would know, with her fancy degree and all? And the dilemma that confronts Susan Fletcher is, in the world of computers and even more acutely in the world of the Internet, as old as the hills. Anyone working in code-breaking and snooping knows that policing the police is a fundamental conflict in information technology regulation. It can’t be a first for any code-breaker working for a top-secret US agency.

On the whole, “Digital Fortress” works better than “Deception Point”. In the former, the world is under threat (naturally) because a renegade code-breaker threatens to release into the public domain an encryption of a kind never seen before. This will jeopardize the work of an US agency which constantly monitors global information flow. Along the way, Brown takes a swipe at the EFF, portraying it as a bunch of misguided zealots. That the EFF is actually fighting a rear-guard action to protect citizens’ rights against state-sponsored invasion of their privacy and that this is something to be supported totally escapes Brown. He sees anarchy as the only alternative to state spying. Anyway, the story races on, with a secret ring (the Tolkien influence) being chased down in Spain while havoc is unleashed in the US. It’s all exciting stuff with wonderful echoes of “The Matrix” films: towards the end, as the ‘shields’ start to go down, the ‘sharks’ and the ‘snakes’ start busting through the agency’s firewalls, all vividly projected on their screens.

In contrast, “Deception Point” is dull, uninspired and hopelessly contrived. Here, we have a Presidential race on our hands. The challenger is brash, arrogant and anti-NASA. The incumbent (he of the slender build and narrow shoulders) is determinedly NASA prone and fixated on the idea that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Which, as someone said, is very likely given that none of it has tried to contact us yet. The director of NASA, in a wild attempt to shore up the present administration, plants a meteorite in a Polar ice-cap and claims that embedded in it is a huge prawn or some such, proof of extraterrestrial life or, at any rate, an alternate food supply. Cracking open this hoax is Rachel Sexton, daughter of aforementioned challenger. Her involvement in the whole thing is doubtful throughout and even Brown does not seem fully convinced: he tries to explain it repeatedly with diminishing success in each round. This is a book in which Brown ties himself in knots. In his desperation to add twists and turns, he jettisons the plausible completely and we have the most absurd situations piling on top of each other. Escaping from an ice-floe by banging on it so that the sonar of a nuclear sub conveniently cruising nearby hears it. A gunfight on a rig with a helicopter gunship above and hungry sharks below. Incompetents from Delta Force who can’t seem to accomplish the simplest termination. We get just about everything except credibility and, after a point, that’s really tiresome. At the end of both books, of course, the threats are neutralized, all is well with the world and the American Way of Life is preserved intacta.

Incidentally, has anyone noted the link between “The Da Vinci Code” and the “The Matrix”? In the second part of “The Matrix” trilogy, there is a character called The Merovingian. Everybody in the film is called ‘The’ something or the other: The Architect, The Keymaker, The Oracle, The One — this is possibly the most over-articled film of all time. But it’s possible that the Wachowski Duo read the same material as Dan Brown. One of the theories in “The Da Vinci Code”, and in “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” (by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, a best-seller of the 1980’s) on which the Dan Brown book is based, is that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s wife. Also, she was pregnant when he was (allegedly; no real proof of this, it seems) crucified. She fled to France and became the figurative chalice, or Holy Grail, in which Christ’s blood was preserved. Their descendants married with the locals, to conceal their identity and eventually founded a dynasty of Frankish kings who, being lineal descendants of the Christ, apparently had the healing touch and were called — you guessed it — the Merovingians.

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About Gautam Patel

Mumbai-based lawyer and weekly columnist for a local newspaper.
  • SoullessThinker

    I must agree… But despite your recent disapointments with Brown, I would still recomend Angels and Demons, which takes place before Da Vinci. Again, the protagonist is your typical boring specialist-turned-Indy Jones, but the plot is engaging. The book focuses on a gigantic Catholic… mess. It’s insane, but fun. If you like good villians and mysteries… here’s your book.

    My personal theory on Brown: too many comic books, too little imagination.

  • http://www.nickcarr.com nick

    I TOTALLY AGREE – Dan Brown has the worst prose in the world.

  • http://transcendentalism.us Kurt Kawohl

    Dan Brown’s books “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” accurately assess many of our present religions which are often based on superstitions from the Dark Ages.

    In this 21st Century the Age of Technology, we are still plagued by religious beliefs that are contributing causes toward terrorism, killings and wars between nations. Belief in what much of mankind calls “God”, a deity who caused catastrophes, punished people and who created the universe out of nothing as if by magic was brought about by hysteria and superstition. The “Holy Books” were written or dictated by men whose social norms during the time period of their lives dictated their and their society’s acceptance of a king-like God with immeasurable powers who would make his wishes known by physically conversing with his messengers. Open-minded people must now use common sense to determine whether this so-called God was incorrectly perceived, misinterpreted and misunderstood by the masses of a bygone era and consider whether this thought process should now to be reassessed and brought up to date.

    Physical contact with the spiritual existence is an impossibility. Spiritual transcendence of a person’s spirit into a “Dimensional Beyondness” has been accepted by believers to have been achieved by most well known religious leaders. Many were Spiritual Transcendentalists who have changed the course of mankind and have been known as individuals who have attempted to correct what they saw as misperceptions within societies. Abraham, Moses, Noah, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Krishna, Bahá’u’lláh, Zoroaster, Ahmad, Nanak and many others of various faiths are believed to have achieved spiritual enlightenment by mastering the art of spiritual transcendence. Is this spiritual transcendence a possibility? My assessment thereof is in the affirmative as a result of my own personal spiritual experiences.

    Our spirit is the only one capable of receiving inspiration and establishing lines of communication with the spiritual realm. The “clean” spirit or soul, after the body’s physical death enters this realm to be with God, Allah or whatever one desires to call him/it, which is a spiritual collective society of souls or spirits; a government, the Ultimate Purity consisting of Pure Intelligence, Pure Logic, the Supreme Spirit.

    Let us hope that man will eventually progress intellectually and evolve to a point whereby he can socialize with totally eliminated tendencies for barbarianism and without a fear of punishment from God; This would true enlightenment. Einstein felt that “God” may very well be the “energy” that is in all matter and energy, that cannot be separated from matter/energy. I submit that God is the pure energy and pure spiritual intellect of the spiritual realm, a progressively accumulation of the united spiritual intelligence of the universe, a Oneness. It is of no importance during our physical life whether God exists or not if one so chooses. Whether or not one believes in a spirit or God really makes no difference to God. Righteous living will determine the continuance and destiny of our spirit/soul.

    Human fallibility and misconceptions have labeled God for the past several millennia as one who interferes with the natural forces and free will of people by threatening punishment to those who disobey his bidding. The spiritual existence of this deity, if one decides to accept this premise, could not have changed with the times but the perception of who or what this deity is should change as societies eliminate their superstitious beliefs. God is not encumbered by human attributes and needs or desires to be worshiped, prayed to, exalted, venerated, deified, or anything else that mankind has to offer. It is also the human characteristics and attributes that exercise upon others: power, control, dominance, destruction, punishment, revenge, and judgment.

    The destruction of civilizations, most sufferings and premature deaths are due to human frailties, stupidity or imperfections and are not God’s doings. God, exists in a spiritual realm and never has and never will interfere with anything on earth or in the universe. God is interested in and is involved in humanity, but does not interfere in any way in our physical lives. God guides the development of the universe and everything thereon like a Master Planner. Our relationship and interaction of our spirit with the Spirit of God is for our, not God’s benefit. All religions have the same goal and everyone is individually and personally responsible for his own soul’s destiny.

    When establishing an association with the present day problems between Jews, Christians and Muslims, we can come up with numerous answers, however if there were no distinctions between Muslims, Jews, and Christians, strife could be minimized. Muslims have been led to believe that they must expand Islam by any means at their disposal in order to please Allah/God. In many regions occupied by Muslims, conflicts have arisen with their neighbors. Many books have been written on various religious beliefs and most people have their own self attained or learned knowledge or deep religious convictions on spirituality.

    One needs to keep an open mind and allow the spirit to absorb the logic of who/what God is without being inhibited by what should be considered outdated religious dogma and conditioning.

  • ken

    Is there anyway that i could even get a hint of the name of dan brown’s next book scheduled to be released summer of 2005? Pleasssssssseeeeeeee…
    Thank You
    Ken