August 18th, 2018


Book #33: Origin by Dan Brown

Number of pages: 638

As I got to the end of this book's prologue, I was reminded of a scene on Futurama. It was after Nibbler revealed himself to be part of the universe's most intelligent race and showed Leela something that prompted her to respond: "I see, every religion is wrong".

The premise of the book also put me in mind of a similarly cynical moment from Matt Groening's more well-known show, The Simpsons, in which Homer has become super-intelligent and goes up to Flanders with apparent proof of the non-existence of God. Flanders, sceptical, takes a look, and then is so scared, he decides to destroy Homer's evidence.

The book opens with Edmond Kirsch, a former student of Robert Langdon (appearing in his fifth novel), and a fanatical atheist/futurist (presumably modelled on Richard Dawkins) announcing that he will make a big announcement to the world that apparently debunks all religion. Kirsch has stirred up a lot of trouble in the religious community with a Bishop apparently threatening to take extreme action. During the build-up to this big moment, the book starts to feel more like a science fiction novel as Robert Langdon finds himself talking to "Winston", a HAL-type artificial intelligence.

The initial build-up feels very slow, and it is quite easy to guess what this is all leading up; sure enough, approximately a quarter of the way into the book, Kirsch is shot dead, just before he can provide his apparently definitive proof that all religions are wrong. While Langdon's response is to go after the person responsible, and find out who he is, the reader is told quite early on exactly who did it, and the character is given a detailed background of his own through a series of flashbacks where we learn that his family were killed in a bombing at Seville Cathedral, and he was turned into a Christian zealot, apparently becoming a member of the Palmarian church, a sect I had never heard of who apparently believe that the Pope is an imposter.

After a slow start, the action did pick up, especially when Langdon and his companion went to Barcelona and ended up with a confrontation in the Sagrada Familia. I was surprised that, for the first half of the book at least, there were none of the cryptic clues that the Robert Langdon books are usually filled with, but they did eventually start appearing, and were mostly (as usual) associated with religious symbolism.

After being disappointed by the previous book, Inferno, I didn't have high hopes for this book, but during the second half it started showing some promise. However, most of the action was just a build-up to Landgon broadcasting the late Edmond Kirsch's presentation to the world, and this was the point when I started feeling let down.

The segment about the presentation was very descriptive, and half of it was talking about the presentation's visuals in such a way that I wondered if Dan Brown should have written this as a graphic novel; it felt like something that might look better in a movie adaptation, if this ever gets done (the movie series has so far skipped The Lost Symbol). When it got up to Kirsch's big revelation, I could predict what was coming before it happened, and it did feel very cliched, and similar to things that have been mentioned in science fiction at least as far back as the times of Harlan Ellison. As a Christian, I couldn't really see quite how Kirsch's proof could in any way debunk my religious beliefs.

The book was almost saved by an unexpected plot twist near the end regarding the identity of the "Regent", who instigated the killing of Kirsch, but it felt like too little, too late. While, I'm not sure what Dan Brown's religious views are (I'm guessing he's atheist or agnostic), a lot of this did feel like a critique of organised religion, until the end when one of the characters made a valid point that stopped the book from feeling like an all-out attack on religious beliefs.

This is worth reading for completeness, but if like me you felt let down by Inferno, you might want to skip this one.

Next book: Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener (M.C. Beaton)