13 July 2012

Dan Brown

I've started to read my first Dan Brown book, Angels and Demons, which I picked up for 50p at a charity shop. I intend to be an utter snob about it, and will try to highlight particularly egregious phrases. I understand this is like shooting a barrel in a barrel, but that won't stop me.

The opening sentence is well known, but irresistible:
Physicist Leonard Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.

But PLV dies soon and we're in the world of Robert Langdon, with his strong, carefree smile of a collegiate athlete. He's taken away to Geneva in a private jet that flies at Mach 15, making the trip in an hour. Is this possible? Apparently not, a quick Wikipedia search suggests. Brown likes to stress the factuality of the background of his stories, and it's strange he should go into obvious science fiction so soon.

Another thing I've read about Brown is that he likes to reveal as astonishing surprises quite mundane facts. Here's one - a dramatic chapter ending:
As their notoriety spread, these lethal men became known by a single word - Hassassin - literally 'the followers of hashish'. The name Hassassin became synonymous with death in almost every language on earth. The word was still used today, even in modern English ... but like the craft of killing, the word had evolved.
It was now pronounced assassin. (p 32)

Odd sentences.
He had always had a fond love of architecture. (p 35)

Langdon arrives in CERN and it's still more science fiction-like, with a touch of Bond villain fortress. But he takes the opportunity to learn that One square yard of drag will slow a falling body almost twenty percent and to tell us this will be useful knowledge later.

Page 53: Brown (or at least Langdon) appears to think Islamic is a language.

On the other hand, there's sometimes a lack of surprise. Langdon was certain Kohler [the head of CERN] would recognise the name [Galileo] (p51) and he's not at all surprised that Kohler had heard of [Freemasons] (p 56), where the possibility of doubt is the amazing thing. It doesn't stop Langdon going all expository about the subjects, though, giving a short history of Freemasonry to the unprotesting Kohler.

Now, here's a character who looks like fun. Vittoria, the daughter of the late Vetra is a bio entanglement physicist:
Recently she disproved one of Einstein's fundamental theories by using atomically synchronized cameras to observe a school of tuna fish.

I'd like to know more about that - which even Langdon boggles at - but I doubt if we will. She's not that bright though. As a child of eight she had to be told what adopt means - despite the fact she was an orphan, living in an orphanage.

* * *

OK, I've got to page 130 now, and the book's not entertaining me in any way. At this point the situation is that someone - possibly the Illuminati - has stolen a quantity of antimatter from CERN and has placed it somewhere in the Vatican. It's in a protective container, but in less than 24 hours the container's batteries will run down, the antimatter will react with real matter and kaboom!

Obviously, Langdon and Vittoria will run around Rome trying to find the antimatter, solving a few puzzles along the way, but I just don't care any more. I don't feel a trace of curiosity as to how he will use his new knowledge of the parachute effect. For all its reputation as a page-turner, the book's been very slow-moving so far, largely because of all the exposition that Brown packs in. I've also realised that the book was written in 2000, long before the LHC was operational, making it even more a work of science fiction. I like some science fiction. At its best it can offer interesting insights into contemporary life, even into large philosophical questions. Angels and Demons doesn't seem likely to do that. It's just a rather clumsy adventure thriller, set in a clunky vision of the near future. The SF elements are just a means to avoid having to face up to reality.

There are nearly 500 pages to go. I'll skip to the sex bit (p 619):

Langdon shook his head. 'No, and I seriously doubt I'm the kind of man who could ever have a religious experience.'
Vittoria slipped off her robe. 'You've never been to bed with a yoga master, have you?'