September 3rd, 2018



I stopped at DePaul's bookstore before getting on the Lake Shore for points east, and picked up Dan Brown's Origin, thus implementing advice I offered years ago about the way to read Inferno.  Got it read before the train reached Albany, thus we'll unleash Book Review No. 23 today and hold the Performance and Practice for another day.

Ostensibly, Origin, like Inferno, and the preceding Lost Symbol and Da Vinci Code, is about Harvard art historian Robert Langdon interacting with some of his brilliant students and using his understanding of arcana to head off The End of The World, and other Dire Consequences.  Yes, those are present.

I can't help wondering, though, whether Origin isn't an Allegory for Our Times.

First, it's not so much that the polymathic Langdon student claims to have information that undoes all the religious Creation beliefs and gets killed before he is able to reveal the information, as it is that social media bots are capable of propagating stories, irrespective of their truthiness, at near-quantum speed.

Second, it's not so much that the Crown Prince of Spain gets drawn into the intrigue by way of his engagement to the director of an art museum, as it is that some of the action takes place in Spain's Valley of the Fallen, an attempt by Francisco Franco to restore unity after the Spanish Civil War: its contemporary story echoes recent tussles over Confederate monuments Stateside.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, an artificial intelligence algorithm, admittedly a very good algorithm, is the Moriarty manipulating social media and doing a number of other things, but you'll have to read the book to find out what those other things.  An artificial intelligence algorithm, though, is only as good as its programming, which is to say, it is still an elaborately scripted moron, and, let's say, in implementing its instructions according to the priorities assigned to it, it takes some scary actions.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)