Randy Auxier's Reviews > Inferno

Inferno by Dan Brown
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Sep 13, 2013

did not like it
bookshelves: total-crap

Dan Brown, Inferno (New York: Doubleday, 2013), an incredible 480 pp., $29.95.

I don’t know why I keep doing this. This is the fourth Robert Langdon novel by the increasingly prolix Dan Brown. I suppose that someone with a two-syllable name should get a break, but I’m not feeling charitable, given he’s rich enough to buy a vowel if he wants, hell, he could buy Vanna White. So my story is this (not that you care): I’ve got an 18 hour drive from the Heart of Texas to Carbondale, and so I go into the desolate Kerrville chain bookstore hoping to find an audio version of Stephen King’s Under the Dome. No dice. And there was Dan Brown. 17 hours of audio. Hmmm.

I read The Da Vinci Code, and I know it was a perfectly awful piece of pseudo-history, skewed to the purposes of his plot. But it was fun. When people went spotted over his strained story of the Catholic cover-up of the matriarchy, I blamed it on those stupid people, not on Dan Brown. “It’s a novel,” I said, “everybody just get over it or take the trouble to learn the real ambiguities in these subjects.” I didn’t believe he was anti-Christian or anti-Catholic (at least not on the evidence of that novel). But then he gleefully killed off bishops and cardinals and even popes in Angels and Demons. And the stories got weaker and the characters got sillier until finally I asked myself “why am I reading this guy?”

This is the last one. No more. Spoiler alert: You ought not care whether I spoil this book, but I’m going to, and I’m going to enjoy it.

In this waste of wood pulp, Dan Brown turns his fetish for Italian art into a scavenger hunt across said peninsula. We get the most touristy of tours through Florence and Venice, with a layover in Istanbul. The shallowness of Brown’s docentry makes Rick Steves look like the early Norman Mailer. Brown finds any excuse to have Robert Langdon recite the obvious art history to characters who would certainly either already know it or, more often, not care. When Brown can’t find a way to have Langdon tell someone what’s in the guidebook, he reserves a few pages to tell us anyway, having Langdon “recall reading” something about this or that detail of Florentine history or of the 4th Doge of Venice, or what time it was when Dante had a bowel movement. This crap occupies a third of the book.

Does Inferno have a plot? Ostensibly, yes: one written with an eye to a forgettable Tom Hanks movie. To wit, a fast-moving scavenger hunt, made necessary by the fact that our hero is being chased and fired upon and doesn’t know why –a device stolen from Ludlum’s Bourne books, same lame frame (aw hell’s bells, amnesia again). We get the grand tour at gunpoint, while Langdon tries to figure out why we can’t remember how we got to Italy, who is chasing us, why, and who are the good guys and the bad guys (and that keeps shifting, as it must in any thriller). Unsatisfied with his simplistic regurgitated art history, Brown decides to double down by involving Dante’s Divine Comedy in his idiotic scheme. Robert Langdon, supposedly a full professor at Harvard, gives a lecture to the friggin’ Dante Society, in friggin’ Italy, as a plenary address for the most learned Dante scholars in the world, which is so rudimentary as to insult the intelligence of college freshmen. Make that high school freshmen. Of course, Brown’s readers (1) know nothing about Dante; and (2) will not take the trouble to learn anything. He knows this. The Da Vinci Code taught him how silly, ignorant, and lazy his readers were. Oh yeah, and then there is me, going back for more of this, but I can’t explain myself.

So, for about half the book, it looks like Brown has finally decided to even the imbalance he created with his attacks on the Catholic Church. He seems to be critical of the hyper-secular, pro-technology, futurist “Transhumanists.” These creepy people seem sort of like Ayn Rand’s followers, except they groan and moan about how much better everything would be if we used our technologies to make ourselves “post-human” (technologically enhanced). Their moral imperative, if it can be called that, is “we, the few, the enlightened, the smartest and the best, are being dragged down by the other 6.98 billion of you sub-post-humans who have silly, backward ideas about saving those who aren’t fit to lick our very smart boots.” (This is my summary of transhumanism, not theirs.)

Brown might find some things here to question. He does, lamely, ask the obvious questions, but by the end of the book, some rogue transhumanists have sterilized a third of the world’s population in order to slow population growth enough to help the human race survive until our geniuses (i.e., transhumanists) invent technologies that will enable us to control our own population growth in some less drastic way.

Now, this all sounds like we have been set up for our “heroes” (Langdon and whoever is really on his side) to prevent these weirdos from ruining the world, but Brown (who is pretty weird himself, I now think) basically endorses their grand random sterilization program and their Brave New World. At no point does he question the ridiculous apocalyptic scenario these (supposed) geniuses describe in which the human race is destined to be completely wiped out by its own planetary mismanagement. At no point does he mention that the mathematics about population increase, descending from Thomas Malthus, has been empirically wrong in every generation since the 18th century. Humans are like macro-cockroaches in evolutionary success. Why even try to be fair (that is, random) in sterilizing us? Why try to save any of the inferiors? Why not let evolution do its work? Why not have the geniuses choose who gets to have kids? It’s not like there’s a God, according to the transhumanists. “Let the apocalypse come and all hail the end of man. I teach you the overman. . . .”

So finally our hero-villains all arrive in Istanbul where the self-sacrificing-arch-villain-transhumanist-savior-of-the-human-race, who for some reason likes Dante (in spite of having no reason at all to like Dante), has hidden his germ-splitting, airborn DNA virus that will sterilize a third of us: randomly, fairly, and only to save the human race –all in perfect contradiction of transhumanist values. “So it goes,” as a great sub-post-humanist once quoth. But then, maybe I’m just not smart enough to see how this isn’t stupid bullshit.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 10, 2013 – Finished Reading
September 13, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
September 13, 2013 – Shelved
November 20, 2013 – Shelved as: total-crap

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Randy Auxier Dan Brown, Inferno (New York: Doubleday, 2013), an incredible 480 pp., $29.95.

I don’t know why I keep doing this. This is the fourth Robert Langdon novel by the increasingly prolix Dan Brown. I suppose that someone with a two-syllable name should get a break, but I’m not feeling charitable, given he’s rich enough to buy a vowel if he wants, hell, he could buy Vanna White. So my story is this (not that you care): I’ve got an 18 hour drive from the Heart of Texas to Carbondale, and so I go into the desolate Kerrville chain bookstore hoping to find an audio version of Stephen King’s Under the Dome. No dice. And there was Dan Brown. 17 hours of audio. Hmmm.

I read The Da Vinci Code, and I know it was a perfectly awful piece of pseudo-history, skewed to the purposes of his plot. But it was fun. When people went spotted over his strained story of the Catholic cover-up of the matriarchy, I blamed it on those stupid people, not on Dan Brown. “It’s a novel,” I said, “everybody just get over it or take the trouble to learn the real ambiguities in these subjects.” I didn’t believe he was anti-Christian or anti-Catholic (at least not on the evidence of that novel). But then he gleefully killed off bishops and cardinals and even popes in Angels and Demons. And the stories got weaker and the characters got sillier until finally I asked myself “why am I reading this guy?”

This is the last one. No more. Spoiler alert: You ought not care whether I spoil this book, but I’m going to, and I’m going to enjoy it.

In this waste of wood pulp, Dan Brown turns his fetish for Italian art into a scavenger hunt across said peninsula. We get the most touristy of tours through Florence and Venice, with a layover in Istanbul. The shallowness of Brown’s docentry makes Rick Steves look like the early Norman Mailer. Brown finds any excuse to have Robert Langdon recite the obvious art history to characters who would certainly either already know it or, more often, not care. When Brown can’t find a way to have Langdon tell someone what’s in the guidebook, he reserves a few pages to tell us anyway, having Langdon “recall reading” something about this or that detail of Florentine history or of the 4th Doge of Venice, or what time it was when Dante had a bowel movement. This crap occupies a third of the book.

Does Inferno have a plot? Ostensibly, yes: one written with an eye to a forgettable Tom Hanks movie. To wit, a fast-moving scavenger hunt, made necessary by the fact that our hero is being chased and fired upon and doesn’t know why –a device stolen from Ludlum’s Bourne books, same lame frame (aw hell’s bells, amnesia again). We get the grand tour at gunpoint, while Langdon tries to figure out why we can’t remember how we got to Italy, who is chasing us, why, and who are the good guys and the bad guys (and that keeps shifting, as it must in any thriller). Unsatisfied with his simplistic regurgitated art history, Brown decides to double down by involving Dante’s Divine Comedy in his idiotic scheme. Robert Langdon, supposedly a full professor at Harvard, gives a lecture to the friggin’ Dante Society, in friggin’ Italy, as a plenary address for the most learned Dante scholars in the world, which is so rudimentary as to insult the intelligence of college freshmen. Make that high school freshmen. Of course, Brown’s readers (1) know nothing about Dante; and (2) will not take the trouble to learn anything. He knows this. The Da Vinci Code taught him how silly, ignorant, and lazy his readers were. Oh yeah, and then there is me, going back for more of this, but I can’t explain myself.

So, for about half the book, it looks like Brown has finally decided to even the imbalance he created with his attacks on the Catholic Church. He seems to be critical of the hyper-secular, pro-technology, futurist “Transhumanists.” These creepy people seem sort of like Ayn Rand’s followers, except they groan and moan about how much better everything would be if we used our technologies to make ourselves “post-human” (technologically enhanced). Their moral imperative, if it can be called that, is “we, the few, the enlightened, the smartest and the best, are being dragged down by the other 6.98 billion of you sub-post-humans who have silly, backward ideas about saving those who aren’t fit to lick our very smart boots.” (This is my summary of transhumanism, not theirs.)

Brown might find some things here to question. He does, lamely, ask the obvious questions, but by the end of the book, some rogue transhumanists have sterilized a third of the world’s population in order to slow population growth enough to help the human race survive until our geniuses (i.e., transhumanists) invent technologies that will enable us to control our own population growth in some less drastic way.

Now, this all sounds like we have been set up for our “heroes” (Langdon and whoever is really on his side) to prevent these weirdos from ruining the world, but Brown (who is pretty weird himself, I now think) basically endorses their grand random sterilization program and their Brave New World. At no point does he question the ridiculous apocalyptic scenario these (supposed) geniuses describe in which the human race is destined to be completely wiped out by its own planetary mismanagement. At no point does he mention that the mathematics about population increase, descending from Thomas Malthus, has been empirically wrong in every generation since the 18th century. Humans are like macro-cockroaches in evolutionary success. Why even try to be fair (that is, random) in sterilizing us? Why try to save any of the inferiors? Why not let evolution do its work? Why not have the geniuses choose who gets to have kids? It’s not like there’s a God, according to the transhumanists. “Let the apocalypse come and all hail the end of man. I teach you the overman. . . .”

So finally our hero-villains all arrive in Istanbul where the self-sacrificing-arch-villain-transhumanist-savior-of-the-human-race, who for some reason likes Dante (in spite of having no reason at all to like Dante), has hidden his germ-splitting, airborn DNA virus that will sterilize a third of us: randomly, fairly, and only to save the human race –all in perfect contradiction of transhumanist values. “So it goes,” as a great sub-post-humanist once quoth. But then, maybe I’m just not smart enough to see how this isn’t stupid bullshit.


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