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Dan Brown: Digital Fortress

Hold up!

See that little date above?

This post was published years ago.

My opinions have changed over time: I think it's quite fun to keep old posts online so that you can see how that has happened. The downside is that there are posts on this site that express views that I now find offensive, or use language in ways I'd never dream of using it today.

I don't believe in airbrushing history, but I do believe that it's important to acknowledge the obvious: some of what I've written in the past has been crap. Some of it was offensive. Some of it was offensively bad. And there's may be some brass among the muck (you can make up your own mind on that).

Some of what I've presented as my own views has been me—wittingly or unwittingly—posturing without having considered all the facts. In a few years, I'll probably think the same about what I'm writing today, and I'm fine with that. Things change. People grow. Society moves forward.

The internet moves on too, which means there might be broken links or embedded content that fails to load. If you're unlucky, that might mean that this post makes no sense at all.

So please consider yourself duly warned: this post is an historical artefact. It's not an exposition of my current views nor a piece of 'content' than necessarily 'works'.

You may now read on... and in most cases, the post you're about to read is considerably shorter than this warning box, so brace for disappointment.


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 post was filed under: Book Club.

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Comments and responses

Comment from Person


    04.19, 27/07/2005

I thought the book was complete rubbish.


Comment from Anonymous


    19.44, 23/08/2005

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


    19.46, 23/08/2005

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


    15.32, 26/08/2005

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)


    17.48, 26/08/2005

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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18th February 2012.

This post has been referenced by another on this site:
sjhoward.co.uk » Summer Books: Digital Fortress by Dan Brown




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