The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown
Format: Hardback, 528 pages
Publisher: Transworld, 2009
Dan Brown is the Mono-sodium glutamate of fiction writers. Let me explain, you know that feeling you get when you eat a Chinese takeaway, that feeling of rich satisfaction and fullness and you know how five minutes after you have finished those feelings have been replaced by a feeling of emptiness, you feel bloated and yet strangely unfulfilled. That feeling is created by the wonders of MSG and it’s exactly the feeling you will get reading the Lost Symbol.
First of all lets start with our cards on the table. I read the DaVinci Code before it got big (honest I did) the reason I read it was because of a longstanding interests in esoteric tales. The same reason I have read Clive Cussler, enjoyed Indiana Jones and was glued to the X-files. I enjoyed it but largely because of the subject matter, then things got out of hand. The book took off, everybody read it and inevitably it’s popularity led to an intense literary snobbery, clearly true art can’t be popular so popular therefore equals poor art. I was confused, was this the same book I read and kind of enjoyed (I also read Brown’s other books and kind of enjoyed them) was it really so bad, am I that poor a judge of writing, what exactly did I enjoy? So I started the Lost Symbol with some trepidation, almost embarrassment, at reading such populist trash, why I might as well be reading Jeffrey Archer or Jilly Cooper.
Back to the current book though and a brief synopsis. Robert Langdon (international symbol expert) is called to Washington to give a talk, only when he gets there he discovers that he is instead on a quest. It’s a quest which sees him and his (brilliant) female companion try to evade capture by a homicidal maniac whilst being helped by rich old man (that’s right it’s the same plot at the DaVinci Code).
Needless to say the characters are drawn into a world of masonic conspiracies, hidden knowledge and a quest to discover the ultimate secret. Do they succeed…well you will have to read it to find out but don’t build up your hopes.
Brown’s skill as a writer lies in engaging his readers with short snappy chapters which nearly always end on some hanging plot point or Flash Gordon type cliffhanger. His failings as a writer are all the other stuff, like plot, characters and dialogue. This leads to a strange duality where you may race through the book with a degree of excitement but it leaves you strangely unaffected. You don’t really care about the characters you just want to know the secret. After all Robert Langdon, Brown’s recurring protagonist could quite happily fall into a vat of acid and I wouldn’t care. He is totally unengaging and this is the hero! He is also, or appears to be, particularly thick and despite being the expert on symbols seems to need everything explained before he finally “gets it”. At times you might urge on the bad guys just to get to the end quicker….just tell me the sodding secret!
Using the same techniques as DaVinci he takes you through these esoteric, hidden (in full view) locations but there is nothing new here, it’s all freely available on the same shelves that held the books he got the DaVinci plot from. In fact I read The Field by Lynne McTaggart five years ago, so whilst it’s great to see subjects like Noetic science getting some recognition it’s not original and that’s one of the big failings of this book. Despite all the cliffhangers, all the action did I learn anything? That might not be an issue, this is fiction after all but Brown’s whole technique is to tease the reader onto the next page with promises of further revelations, when these revelation turn out to be years old and frankly often uninteresting the reader can’t help but feel disappointed.
So like that Chinese meal, this book and Brown’s writing in general, whilst satisfying at the moment of consumption is ultimately poor quality, artificial and probably bad for your health. Again though, like the finest junk food, it’s strangely compelling, will I be there for the next book, probably. You can find out more about this book just about anywhere you care to look.
Rating 2 out of 5
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Posted by Colin Leslie at 17:41
Monday, 9 November 2009
by Colin Harvey
Format : Paperback, 432Pages
Publisher: Angry Robot, 2009
I must admit to being a bit of a fan of Norse mythology. All those snow covered, barren wastes and hulking great warriors knocking seven shades of stuff out of each other with axes..great. Set a science fiction novel on one of those worlds and you would really grab my attention which is exactly what Winter Song did.
Karl Allman's spaceship crashes on Isheimur but he is soon rescued by some of the locals. Living in communities based on ancient Scandinavia he soon becomes embroiled in the difficult and hard lives of these people. Once he discovers that there may be a way to leave, life gets a lot more complicated though.
A book of two halves, the first is almost pure fantasy as the lives and relationships of the planets inhabitants are revealed. The second half jolts back to Science Fiction as events take a global turn.
I can't say much more about the plot without introducing spoilers only that, for me, the shift in scale and scope in the second part of the book was a bit sudden and slightly incongruous. The characters are well drawn but in the end reverted to cliche just a bit too much for my liking.
As a mash up of styles it's an interesting idea and the first part of the book works well as a fantasy with recurring SF themes but once the global dynamics come into play then the plot becomes a bit too forced.
I enjoyed Winter Song and thought the setting was original and engaging. SF with axes, what's not to like.
Posted by Colin Leslie at 18:37
Sunday, 8 November 2009
I have always been a huge fan of Simon Marsden's Infrared Photography (if you don't know it have a look here). Of course trying to emulate it in pre digital days required special film and hours steeped in darkroom chemicals. Digital has made it slightly easier.
Here are a couple of examples I recently took at Clava Cairns, prehistoric burial mounds near Inverness.
Now whilst they are not a patch on Simon Marsden's quality they do have a certain something. Infrared really captures the mysterious nature of these sites. More experiments soon.