Ever since the breakthrough success of Angels & Demons, his first mystery/thriller novel featuring Harvard professor and master of symbology Robert Langdon, Dan Brown has found a formula which turns arcane and esoteric knowledge, exotic and picturesque settings, villains with grandiose ambitions, and plucky female characters into bestsellers, two of which, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, have been adapted into Hollywood movies.
This is the fifth novel in the Robert Langdon series. After reading the fourth, Inferno, it struck me that Brown’s novels have become so formulaic they could probably be generated by an algorithm. Since artificial intelligence figures in the present work, in lieu of a review, which would be difficult to write without spoilers, here are the parameters to the Marinchip Turbo Digital™ Thriller Wizard to generate the story.
Villain: Edmond Kirsch, billionaire computer scientist and former student of Robert Langdon. Made his fortune from breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and robotics.
Megalomaniac scheme: “end the age of religion and usher in an age of science”.
Buzzword technologies: artificial general intelligence, quantum computing.
Big Questions: “Where did we come from?”, “Where are we going?”.
Religious adversary: The Palmarian Catholic Church.
Plucky female companion: Ambra Vidal, curator of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (Spain) and fiancée of the crown prince of Spain.
Hero or villain? Details would be a spoiler but, as always, there is one.
Contemporary culture tie-in: social media, an InfoWars-like site called ConspiracyNet.com.
MacGuffins: the 47-character password from Kirsch’s favourite poem (but which?), the mysterious “Winston”, “The Regent”.
Enigmatic symbol: a typographical mark one must treat carefully in HTML
When Edmond Kirsch is assassinated moments before playing his presentation which will answer the Big Questions, Langdon and Vidal launch into a quest to discover the password required to release the presentation to the world. The murder of two religious leaders to whom Kirsch revealed his discoveries in advance of their public disclosure stokes the media frenzy surrounding Kirsch and his presentation, and spawns conspiracy theories about dark plots to suppress Kirsch’s revelations which may involve religious figures and the Spanish monarchy.
After perils, adventures, conflict, and clues hidden in plain sight, Startling Revelations leave Langdon Stunned and Shaken but Cautiously Hopeful for the Future.
- When the next Dan Brown novel comes along, see how well it fits the template. This novel will appeal to people who like this kind of thing: if you enjoyed the last four, this one won’t disappoint. If you’re looking for plausible speculation on the science behind the big questions or the technological future of humanity, it probably will. Now that I know how to crank them out, I doubt I’ll buy the next one when it appears.