I’m reading Dan Brown’s latest in a similar mode to my readings of Lee Child. That is it’s a genre and author that really holds no interest other than witnessing what a best-seller looks like and attempting an understanding how it’s constructed. Who am I to call it drivel? Stylistically neither has won me over. The “thrilling” aspect is very dependent on structural twists hidden under a mass of intricate detail. Ballistics and field-craft detail for example in Jack Reacher’s case; institutional locational and historical conspiracy detail in Robert Langdon’s case. I say hidden but, if you don’t find the detail topic absorbing, the plot devices are transparently obvious and telegraphed before every twist, so far.
With Origin however there is a level in which the content and the overall premise and thesis fit right into my agenda. From this point on this “review” is a spoiler. It’s the content I’m gutting here.
I’m reading it because of this review I noted here: “Teleology Without a God”. I’m interested in AI and latest information and communications technology not because they impress me about possible artificial futures, utopian or dystopian, but because they are helping us understand the evolution of real human consciousness, will and intelligence from the information potential of the universe.
Almost all of the components of Brown’s plot I’ve read before: The lying down in a meadow to look up at the cosmos, and the simulation in “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” are pure Douglas Adams. The religious institutional historical conspiracies and libraries of ancient books are pure Umberto Eco (as was already said about Brown many years ago) with the connections right to the top of the Vatican a la Godfather-III. A little too much religious suppression of science a la Galileo and al-Ghazali put me in mind of Alice Dreger and Salman Rushdie. Gaudi and his Familia Sagrada as archetypes to the plot, and the encoding of emergent natural patterns all scream Dennett and Hofstadter to me. I’m probably not Brown’s target audience.
One neat device is the use of a fictional conspiracy-theory web-clearing-house to summarise the public view of unfolding news stories, rather than inserting an inevitable myriad of individual tweets and messages into the narrative or dialogue. The cliched HAL(2001) and impossible Déjà Vu technology references are neatly played down by the character of the AI supporting our hero, named Winston as a nod to 1984 no doubt. There is a certain craft, and it’s not all bad. As suspected the topic is right on.
And, as usual, I’m writing this “review” barely a third into Origin. First impressions.
Looks like Brown’s central story really is the “discovery” that the middle way between mindless evolution and a creative god, is naturally evolved, intelligent and purposeful creativity – Teleology Without a God, as I already said. Information patterns are the root of course. At this point I can’t quite see two things: why this Elon Musk vs Discovery Institute angle is so earth shattering to the religious communities; and how is Brown going to resolve first-cause beyond his infinite corridor metaphor?
I’ll be back.
Also published on Medium.