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Dan Brown: Digital Fortress

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Hold up! Before you read on, please read this...

This post was published more than 14 years ago

I keep old posts on the site because I often enjoy reading old content on other people's sites. It can be interesting to see how views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have, to put it mildly, mellowed.

I'm not a believer in brushing the past under the carpet. I've written some offensive rubbish on here in the past: deleting it and pretending it never happened doesn't change that. I hope that stumbling across something that's 14 years old won't offend anyone anew, because I hope that people can understand that what I thought and felt and wrote about then is probably very different to what I think and feel and wrote about now. It's a relic of an (albeit recent) bygone era.

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

  • My views may well have changed in the last 14 years. I have written some very silly things over the years, many of which I find utterly cringeworthy today.
  • This post might use words or language in ways which I would now consider highly inappropriate, offensive, embarrassing, or all three.
  • Factual information might be outdated.
  • Links might be broken, and embedded material might not appear properly.

Okay. Consider yourself duly warned. Read on...


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 523rd post was filed under: Book Club.

Some recently published posts

Reflecting on my first ten years as a doctor / June 2019, 8 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / June 2019, 6 minutes long

Californian taxis, gun ownership and democracy / May 2019, 9 minutes long

The assassination of JFK / May 2019, 6 minutes long

Crossing the US-Mexico border / May 2019, 10 minutes long

Some random old posts

Lib Dems could win election, poll shows / February 2005, Less than a minute long

Right of Reply / May 2003, 3 minutes long

MSN Search Launches / February 2005, Less than a minute long

Howard raises fears of race riots / January 2005, 4 minutes long

Recording for the Pod Delusion / January 2013, Less than a minute long

Review: Flat Earth News by Nick Davies / February 2013, 11 minutes long


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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