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Dan Brown - Digital Fortress | Review
on 2 November 2013
I'm no great fan of Dan Brown, because he's not as crazy as most of the writers that I like to read - he's like the pop music version of Stephen King, and I don't even read too much Stephen King. It's too contemporary for me, but I give it a go every now and then.
And Brown isn't a terrible writer - he's more than capable, and that's almost part of the problem. It's convincing enough, it just feels uninspired - it's the alcohol-free beer of the book world, and I'm not sure whether that's a compliment or not. And to make matters worse, Digital Fortress is hardly his greatest novel.
That said, the subject matter should appeal to me - it's been described as a "technothriller", and it's almost a subtle parody of the real-life history of cryptography, a subject that I find fascinating and baffling at the same time. Brown's novel follows cryptographer Susan Fletcher as she attempts to crack a complex new code that threatens national security.
In many ways, it's typical of all of Brown's other work - you'll notice, after reading a couple of novels, that they all follow a formula. That's probably because he was formerly a lecturer in creative writing, and they always say that you need to know the rules before you break them - unfortunately, Brown never breaks them.
Still, Digital Fortress is far from the worst book that I've ever read, and it's definitely worth reading if you've read Dan Brown's work before and enjoyed it. However, don't read this before reading Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol - they're better-known for a reason. They're better.
It's interesting to note, though, that some of the topics that the book covers are even more relevant in this modern world than they were back in 1998, when the book was first published. In this sense, Brown did well to jump on the explosive growth of technology to secure inspiration for his government's surveillance of electronic information about the private lives of its citizens - if you do read Digital Fortress, just remember how the NSA, the British metropolitan police force and other key enforcement organisations are monitoring your activity on social networking sites.
And it's a testament to Dan Brown's writing skills that you do finish the book feeling genuinely paranoid, because it's believable and you wouldn't be surprised if something similar genuinely did happen from time to time - it's not as though the U.S. government is afraid to keep things under wraps. Sometimes I think that they know even more than we think they know, and they laugh at us because of it. Makes me glad to be British, really - our politicians are too inefficient to keep up a charade for long.
Overall, I'd hesitate to recommend this, but you're more than welcome to proceed at your own caution - it's a fairly long read, so think it over carefully before making a final decision.