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Dan Brown: Digital Fortress

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Warning: This post was published more than 12 years ago.

I keep old posts on the site because sometimes it's interesting to read old content. Not everything that is old is bad. Also, I think people might be interested to track how my views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have mellowed and matured!

But given the age of this post, please bear in mind:

  • My views might have changed in the 12 years since I wrote this post.
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Many thanks for your understanding.


Nobody can claim that I haven’t given Dan Brown a fair crack at entertaining me. I’ve read The Da Vinci Coda, Angels and Demons, as well as Digital Fortress. And, at least as far as I can see, the best complement I can give the books is the one I first gave them: ‘irritatingly gripping tosh’.

Just like the other two, Digital Fortress is by no means deep, considered, or erudite. It’s a quick story, completely lacking depth, and riddled with predictability. The most irritating part of Digital Fortress was the final thirty pages, where the solution to the whole problem of the book was glaringly obvious, and yet apparently the most accomplished cryptographers in the world were unable to work it out. And, despite having earlier demonstrated an intimiate knowledge of other obscure chemicals like freon, they are unable to recall basic facts about the most famous of all elements. And for a miliatary organisation, there’s an awful lot of insubordination.

And why on earth would one build a dome to house a top secret computer that had both a see-through glass roof to allow any passing spy satellites to have a close look, and given that this computer could melt-down at any time, have no effective emergency exits? And why would a department housing the most accomplished cryptographers have physical security barriers protected with passwords rather than keys? It’s all a little bit bizarre. There are so many gaping plot holes, I often wondered if I was about to plunge into one never to be seen again.

Brown has clearly tried to throw in a little bit of interpersonal relationships into this novel, trying to give us confused signals about who loves who, and what’s going on in various romances. Instead, the whole thing ends up looking freakishly incestuous. And yet that angle is completely ignored.

The problem with the novel is that it is genuinely gripping, because you want to carry on reading to find out where the characters are finally going to catch up with the obvious. Have they not realised that every passing observation they make later plays a key role in a Dan Brown novel?

There’s really very little to recommend about Dan Brown. Unless you happen to be fans of both cryptography and the Catholic Church. Because even in a novel about NSA cryptography, there still has to be a moment of high drama in a Catholic Church. It feels like Brown is desperately trying to avoid dragging the church into it, but can’t quite resist. The only other thing to recommend is that it is extremely easy reading. You don’t need to engage your brain, there’s no complicated moral or philosophical puzzles posed, no deep meanings; you just let the words wash over your eyes. And try to resist the urge to scream out in frustration.

As I hope you’ll have gathered by now, this isn’t a book I’d particularly recommend. It’s not even an author I’d particularly recommend. But if you do feel the urge to read it, you can buy it ‘cheap as chips’ using the links on the right.

This 524th post was filed under: Book Club.






More posts worth reading

What I’ve been reading this month (published 4th December 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 6th November 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 5th October 2017)

Photo-a-day 38: Abstract flower (published 7th February 2014)

Why are bad books so popular? (published 19th May 2006)

NTL launches new broadband speeds (published 9th March 2005)

Full Monty: The Rivals (published 11th December 2003)


Comments and responses

Comment from Person


by Person

Comment posted at 04:19 on 27th July 2005.

I thought the book was complete rubbish.


Comment from Anonymous


by Anonymous

Comment posted at 19:44 on 23rd August 2005.

you are absolutely right. To be kind, I´m sure Mr.Brown has never been to Seville, someone must have wanted to cheat him..


Comment from Anonymous


by Anonymous

Comment posted at 19:46 on 23rd August 2005.

You are absolutely right. To be kind with Mr.Brown, I´m sure he has never been to Seville, someone must have tried to cheat him..


Comment from Anonymous


by Anonymous

Comment posted at 15:32 on 26th August 2005.

I am a sevillian girl and I feel very desappointed with this “writer”. I really thought that Dan Brown was a man who investigate seriously in order to make his novels, but now I know his a botcher and mediocre writer…


Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)


by sjhoward

Comment posted at 17:48 on 26th August 2005.

As much as I agree with all the commenters above, you do have to respect the fact that Mr Brown’s work has sold tens of thousands of copies, and made him a very rich man – which, at the end of the day, was probably his foremost aim.

Go given the success of his novels(however bad they were), can he really be that bad a writer? Or was it all down to marketing?


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This post has been referenced by another on this site:
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