Posts tagged ‘reviews’


I get snarky on Dan Brown’s “Inferno”

All sorts of many things have been happening, and I have not been weblogifying about them!

(I have been posting pictures of some of the more visual ones, which you can look at and get some vague, or precise, ideas.)

But I did finish (the Kindle edition of) Dan Brown’s Inferno, and I wrote a snarky review of it for Amazon (because it was awful and being snarky is fun), so here ya go!

Mediocre (two stars)

So mostly this is the usual rather awful Dan Brown novel, with one pleasing twist, and one piece of additional awfulness to make up for it.

It’s the usual awful Dan Brown because it is basically an implausible scavenger hunt starring the annoying Robert Langdon, who is even more distracted than usual by historical and architectural trivia while he is supposedly trying to save the world. The female protagonists fall for him because of course they do, and he goes on and on and on and on about things utterly unrelated to the plot (although, to be fair, the travelogue stuff is generally somewhat more interesting than the ostensible plot or the activities of the cardboard characters).

It is awful because (perhaps sensibly) the editors don’t seem to have bothered editing the text (why bother when it’s going to sell a zillion copies anyway), and while words like “unstraddled”, “faceup” and the endlessly-repeated “bloodred” might be amusing if this was an experimental free-verse poem or something, scattered around in the otherwise flat and conventional prose they are just distracting and illiterate (would it have been so hard to type “dismounted”, “face up” and “blood-red”?). He uses “enormity” to refer to a statue being large, just like a high school kid, and no one corrects him. The book even has “telegenic effluvium” for “telogen effluvium”, which is embarrassing just to read, but I’m willing to assume this one is just someone not bothering to double-check a computer spell-checker.

It is awful because he gets his name-dropping quotes of Oppenheimer and Marx freaking _wrong_ (and the correct versions would have worked so much better), which inevitably makes the reader wonder if there are equally sloppy mistakes in the travelogue and art-history sections, which would be a pity.

It is awful for the usual inexplicable references to specific irrelevant brands and people. “Maurizio reversed the boat’s Volvo Penta engine, expertly backing away from the bank.” (Targeted at those readers whose first action on getting onto a Venetian gondola is to check out the make of the engine) “… already skimming across the lagoon in a futuristic black tender — a Dubois SR52 Blackbird…” (because the atmosphere would have been completely different if it were, say, a Windy 8M, a Novurania Launch 600, or heaven forbid some kind of ChrisCraft.) “Monteverdi, Liszt, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and Puccini composed pieces based on Dante’s work, as had one of Langdon’s favorite living recording artists — Loreena McKennitt” (Because of course we are endlessly fascinated with Langdon’s every music preference and clothing habit; don’t get me started on the heavily symbolic-of-nothing Mickey Mouse Watch he wears.)

It is awful for reasons that I could bore you with for quite some time (the ellipses! the completely implausible reactions to things! the dumb things that supposedly hyper-intelligent characters say! the painfully ignorant throwaway statements about what “Darwinists” believe! the more or less unchallenged and far from correct statements about how overpopulation is going to kill us all!).

It is redeemed somewhat by a large twist somewhat more than halfway through, that I admit I didn’t see coming at all, and that gave me that few minutes of delight in thinking “wait, but then…” and “oh, so that’s…” and paging back through the book to see what it actually said in various passages that now have completely different meanings post-reveal. The twist made a couple of things that had seemed weird and wrong on first reading make perfect sense; also a good and pleasant feeling.

But then, the crowning weirdness, that I can imagine feeling right and somewhat satisfying in a different book, but for me utterly deflates this one, is that (_mild spoiler warning_) it turns out at the end that everything all of the characters have done since the first page of the book has been for nothing, has made no difference at all. The world would have been just the same if they’d all woken up to the big serious threat by the Bad Guy, and thought “ah, to heck with it” and turned over and gone back to sleep (aside from the more or less indirect and accidental deaths of a couple of minor innocent characters, and some serious traffic problems in Venice). So, I mean, what? It really doesn’t matter at all that Mary Sue Langdon figured out the faux-clever clues before the bad guy’s deadline? So… why did I read this book, exactly, then?

It’s possible that this is Book One of a series, and that in some sequel it will all turn out to have mattered. But if so that sequel will be yet another awful Dan Brown novel, and really, is it worth it?

The sad thing is that there’s a good chance I will eventually read whatever awful book he writes next, because they are easy to read and fun to feel superior to, and everyone else will also read it so there is the whole Cultural Awareness thing.

And while I am also reading Iris Murdoch’s Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, it is going much more slowly…


Reviews: “Belief or Nonbelief” and “Pallas”

Two of my reviews have just Gone Live on Amazon, my “email” informs me, so I will stick them here as well so that they are in more places, and my fame can spread more quickly.

Belief or Nonbelief, by Umberto Eco and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (non-ebook version)Belief or Nonbelief
Two out of Five Stars

This is billed as a spirited exchange between a believer and a non-believer, but really it’s much less than that. Eco is a barely-lapsed Catholic intellectual, and as he says himself the basic structure of his thinking is still very much based in Catholicism.

Except for the final brief pair of chapters, the book consists of Eco asking Martini to talk about the Church’s answer to something, and Martini answering with the Catholic party line.

And because this is the Father of Semiotics and a Catholic Cardinal, the language is full of fifty-thousand-dollar words and content-free metaphors. Here is Eco, for instance, perhaps imitating one of those online Random Postmodern Text Generators:

“Christianity invented History, and it is in fact a modern incarnation of the Antichrist that denounces History as a disease. It’s possible that secular historicism has understood history as infinitely perfectible — so that tomorrow we improve upon today, always and without reservation, and so that in the course of the same history God reconstitutes himself and in a manner of speaking educates and enriches himself. But the entire secular world is not of the ideological view that through history we understand how to look at the regression and folly of history itself.”

Say what? Secular historicism has understood that God educates himself? You don’t say!

And when Eco asks how the Church knows when human life begins, Martini’s answer is that it’s at the moment of conception, because that is when there is a new being with a face. Which must be a metaphor for something (since a fertilized egg is way to small to have a face), but we’re left to guess for ourselves exactly what it’s supposed to be a metaphor for.

In the final exchange, Martini finally asks a question of Eco rather than vice-versa. The question itself is nothing impressive, just the usual “how do atheists justify their morality without an invisible friend in the sky to do it for them?”; but Eco’s answer is solid and almost clearly stated. There’s nothing all that special, he points out, about basing your morality on a deity (believers are just as prone to immorality as anyone else), and our own desire to be treated well and our natural tendency to empathy make a fine alternative.

So anyway. Most of the book is throwaway concepts couched in needlessly elaborate prose, but at least it’s short. The last chapter is worth a read.

Pallas, by L. Neil SmithPallas
Three out of Five Stars

This is a good solid yarn; strong and smart good guys you can root for, nasty evil bad guys to boo, interesting SF ideas, rockets and personal helicopters, a hooker with a heart of gold, old ladies packing heat, and all sorts of fun stuff.

Like so many stories with political intent, it completely cheats on the political message. No one in the socialist polity is good, no one in the capitalist one is bad. The capitalist society doesn’t need to tax anyone because it doesn’t need police or real courts, because everyone in the society is basically an angel (for some reason the society doesn’t even need fire stations; this is noted in passing but never explained).

Showing that your favorite politico-economic system would work for a society of angels is not a very big challenge!

The one nod that Smith makes toward reality is that when the entire world (asteroid) is threatened by a natural phenomenon, the “freeloader problem” arises, and it’s not clear how the rather expensive solution is going to get paid for without something icky like taxes. But the solution is just that Our Hero pays for the whole thing himself, and the problem is solved.

This isn’t realistic, though; if Our Hero had any actual competitors, the resulting extra costs he bears would put him at a disadvantage to them, and he would go out of business. Fortunately for the story, he has no actual competitors, because he is the only person to realize that in a society where everyone wants to be armed and guns are expensive to import, it might make sense to open a (wait for it) gun factory. Ooooh!

(The real Freeloader Problem here, which Smith ignores entirely as far as I can tell, is the environment envelope around the asteroid, which requires constant maintenance by guys with rockets and space-suits. Who pays for all that, exactly?)

Definitely a fun read. Just don’t try to use it as a guide to public policy in the real world.