About two years ago, I was on a second date with a perfectly nice man. We’d met at a singles event (always fun and never awkward…) had had a nice coffee and were now having dinner. He was also a writer, though his thing was political thrillers, one of which he’d self published already. (I was going to wait until like the fifth date to read his book…) He mentioned that Dan Brown was his favorite writer, which struck me as an odd thing for a writer to say because like, Dan Brown is fine, but he’s basically the vanilla yogurt of writers, not really anyone’s “favorite,” certainly not someone interested in writing their own stuff.
When I said that I’d read most of his stuff and it didn’t click with me because once I figured out the formula, I’d ceased to find his thrillers, you know, thrilling, he stared at me like, well, like a character in a Dan Brown novel who’d just learned that some deeply held conviction of theirs was ACTUALLY NOT THAT AT ALL!
There wasn’t a third date. He never called me again. I’ve decided it’s because of that anecdote. (Because that comment made me come off as jerky and elitist, and I made him feel stupid.)
I tell this story for a specific reason when talking about Brown’s books:
I’m hesitant to judge anyone’s choice in “junk food entertainment.” Just because I prefer romance novels about spies during the Napoleonic wars to Professor Robert Langdon’s improbable adventures with secret religious societies throughout Europe, doesn’t mean I think I’m better than the people that do. That would be like saying, the because I’d rather eat Oreos I’m a better person than those that go for Doritos. They’re both kind of garbage, but sometimes, you want garbage.
Origin is definitely a straightforward Dan Brown story, and while the BIG REVELATION won’t really shock anyone even remotely familiar with the philosophies of New Atheism or Futurism (I am passing familiar with both, in that I’ve read at least one article by Christopher Hitchins and seen Bill Maher’s Religulous and I’ve been to Disney World a bunch of times and watched Star Trek)
This time Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon (SO DUMB) is running around Spain with the Prince of Spain’s beautiful fiancee who is also a modern art curator, Ambra Vidal (sure, whatever) and a sentient AI named Winston (BEST IDEA THAT BROWN HAS EVER HAD!) trying to outrun an assassin who shot and killed a mutual friend, noted futurist and New Atheist Edmond Kirsch, who was on the verge of ANNOUNCING A SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY THAT WILL DESTROY OUR UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. (It really, really doesn’t.) (Much as it’s really really not that controversial to point out that Jesus may have had a family, and thus have living descendants) (Or whatever it is that happened in Angels And Demons.)
I’m getting down on this book but I enjoyed reading it, it certainly has it’s share of ridiculousness, and there’s a pretty heavy handed anti neo-fascist message, which while appreciated in a piece of popular fiction like Origin, is maybe out of Brown’s depth thematically. The mystery is actually pretty fun, Langdon is at his charming, bafflingly well informed best, and THIS BOOK HAS A SENTIENT CELL PHONE NAMED AFTER WINSTON CHURCHILL IN IT, so you know, that’s pretty cool.
The dialog is often groan worthy, and while I get that Dan Brown’s general audience is older, I really think the page long description of what Uber is could have been cut. (I actually laughed out loud at that point) I genuinely liked the post climax action where Langdon explains his own religious beliefs, noting the difference between patterns and codes. (Patterns can occur randomly, codes require intent, life requires a code, thus must have some sort of intelligence behind it’s creation.) (Langdon is clearly a fan of St. Thomas Aquinas.)
I was wondering if Origin would make me want to go back and check out the Langdon books I skipped (Inferno and The Lost Symbol.) It didn’t, but it also didn’t feel like a complete waste of time! Hooray!